For academic research, there are different methods for gathering data, and one way is the qualitative method. Qualitative method of data gathering employs the use of interviews to collect data. Unlike when using a questionnaire, the responses from this method are often conversational as opposed to the numerical answers in the case of questionnaires.
When you are planning to conduct during your project, there are certain things you should consider, such as who will be interviewed, the information needed from the session, and the kind of interview to help you achieve your aim.
Things to Note Before the Interview
Find an interviewee
When choosing your interviewee, you should think about and research the following points:
The topic: Which experts are particularly well regarded on my subject?
Accessibility: How can I reach my potential interviewee? Is it only possible through an office or on the phone?
Write to the interviewee
Whether an interview is successful is usually decided upon the first contact request. It is therefore particularly important here that you can win over your potential interviewee. It is best if you formulate the first contact via email. If there is no other way, you can, of course also call. In writing, however, you can express everything precisely and concisely.
Mainly if a potential interviewee receives many interview requests, impersonal emails are something for their trash. It is therefore important that you start your interview request with a personal reference – why do you want to interview this person? Is he or she known for his or her expertise? At this point, you should get specific here and justify your contact with a positive reference to your potential interviewee.
Is all critical information included?
In addition to personal reference, the cover letter must also contain other important information:
1. Who are you, and what purpose are you writing for?
2. Where the interview would take place?
3. What advantage the interviewee is bringing to the research?
Formulate interview questions
After you have found your interviewee, it is time to formulate your interview questions.
Prepare the topic
Write down a few questions in five minutes and hope your interviewee will explain the topic sufficiently to you? This is usually not a good thing. Even if a topic is very foreign to you, and you want to interview the interviewee precisely because of his or her expert knowledge, you should deal with the topic before the interview. So, you can ask more specific questions, for example, based on something you have read.
In the case of an expert topic, you can also see in your preparation, whether the interviewee has already given other interviews on this topic. So, you can ask further questions.
The same also applies if it is a more personal interview, which is primarily about the interviewee and his story or opinion. Here you should also familiarize yourself with the background of your interviewee.
What answers do I expect?
Your interview questions should always have one goal, namely, to elicit appropriate answers from your interviewee. Depending on the objective, this can be personal anecdotes, opinions on a topic, or expert knowledge. Therefore, it makes sense that when formulating your questions, you are already thinking about what you hope for as an answer. Nevertheless, you should not take the interview too strictly, because different answers can be interesting in some cases, and it can go deeper into a topic.
This is especially true for expert interviews, the aim of which is to provide your readers with helpful knowledge. If you have problems formulating the questions, you can first think about which answers you hope to find and formulate suitable questions.
Ask open questions
Yes, no, maybe – these are not exactly the answers we hope for in an interview. You can prevent monosyllabic answers by asking open questions. So, it makes a difference whether you ask, for example:
Do you find Christmas exhausting?
What do you find particularly tiring at Christmas?
Open questions are always the so-called W questions, which are introduced, for example: Why…? How…? What…? Which…?
Organize questions sensibly
You should note the following for the structure of your interview:
- From simple to complex
- Do not jump from topic to topic
- One question at a time
From simple to complex
Ideally, you start the interview with simple, basic questions. You can very well establish a personal relationship with the interviewee in the first question, for example, by referring to the content of his or her research to “warm-up” your interviewee.
Do not jump from topic to topic
An interview should have a good structure. However, if you jump from topic to topic and back again, your interviewee may be torn from his or her flow of thoughts and will find it difficult to find answers.
One question at a time
Formulating interview questions is not easy, and in some cases, we want to tease out several answers with one question, which can lead to a question consisting of three parts at once. This overwhelms the conversation partner. It is, therefore, better to put questions one below the other if you send them in writing, and in an oral interview, always ask one question after the other and follow up with follow-up questions.
Different types of Interview
Type of interviews, depending on the structure and format. Another criterion to take into account would be based on the format used, face-to-face, telephone, videoconference, etc. However, we will first focus our attention on the type of structure of the interview.
1. Structured Interview
As its name suggests, everything that happens in the meeting is programmed and studied, the sequence of questions, the tone of the conversation, the different topics to be discussed, etc.
2. Unstructured Interview
This would be the opposite case to the previous one. In this situation, the interviewer attends the interview, being very clear about the objectives of the meeting; however, no script is followed, and improvisation is the protagonist.
Its biggest advantage is that it can bring out other areas not covered in the objectives, and its drawback is the risk of leaving issues relevant to the process in the pipeline.
3. Semi-structured Interview
By its name, it follows that it is a mixture of the previous two. The interviewer will apply a mixed strategy that consists, on the one hand, of asking open-ended questions to the interviewee where it is personalized and improvised. On the other hand, a series of predetermined questions will be followed with which it is possible to delve into the relevant aspects. Perhaps it is considered the most complete since it covers the shortcomings of both.
A lot of students carry out our interviews for research in writing or by telephone. However, it can also be conducted in a face-to-face session if there is no great distance between the interviewee and interviewer. Whether in writing, by telephone or on-site – all three implementations offer advantages, disadvantages, and certain points that you should pay attention to.
4. Written interview
The advantage of a written interview is that you have the answers in black and white, and misunderstandings can be avoided. This is especially true for more complex topics. You also save a lot of time because you don’t have to write the interview down after a conversation.
The challenge of a purely written interview is that you cannot ask questions you would like to have answered in between. It is also often difficult to elicit personal anecdotes in writing since the interview process is very structured and distant.
Important points to keep in mind in a written interview:
- Personal relationship in the first question: Since you make out build up a personal report in a written interview, it is all the more important that you at least establish a personal relationship with your interviewee in the first question.
- Number questions: Since you cannot ask questions while the interview partner is answering the questions, you should prepare for the items. This is easier if you number the questions. For example, you can refer specifically to question number 2 when inquiring.
- Option for a free answer at the end: Since you do not interact with your interview partner during the interview and so it is not possible to address issues that might be important to your interviewee organically, it is advisable to ask an open question at the end. Here you can ask what would be important to the interviewee on the topic or whether he or she has other tips.
The advantage of a telephone interview is that you speak to the interviewee personally and can respond to his or her answers. In this way, you can ask further questions in the conversation if the answers are not sufficient or something is not entirely clear.
The challenge with telephone interviews is that you have to make notes during the conversation, which, however, could not accurately convey what your interviewee said. You can also start the conversation, but then you have to write down what has been reported after the telephone interview, which means that it takes more time than a written interview.
Important points to keep in mind during a telephone interview:
- Send questions in advance: If the interview is not exactly an investigative conversation, in which it is important to capture the unprepared reaction of the interview partner, it is a good idea to send your interview questions to the interviewee in advance. The interviewee can think about this beforehand, especially in interviews that involve an expert topic.
- Smalltalk / introduction at the beginning: A telephone interview is a lot more personal than a written interview. The main thing here is how you start the interview. For example, you can first thank the interviewee for the time, ask if he has already been able to look at the questions, and then transfer to the interview. Of course, other types of small talk are also possible. However, the following does not apply for everyone here; hence, it is better to get in quickly before it is uncomfortably forced.
- Recording the interview: As already noted, it is a good idea for a telephone interview that you record it. On the one hand, you can conduct the conversation more freely during the interview, since you don’t have to write everything down, on the other hand, conversation pieces are not lost, and you can quote more accurately. You should, however, continue to take notes, because your notes will help you to find the common thread again when you write it down later. Before you start recording, you should ask your interviewee whether it is ok for him or her to record the interview.
- Taking breaks: The fear of awkward breaks during each conversation is probably on the mind of each of us. In a telephone interview, however, we mustn’t overreact and try to ask too quickly. It may happen that the interviewee has not yet been able to complete his train of thought. Therefore, after the supposed end of an answer, take a break for a few seconds before continuing with the next question or asking.
An on-site interview has the advantage that you are even more personal with your interviewee and can support the interview through body language. If you conduct a physical interview and it is relevant to your research that you capture the body reaction, such as when training a sports team or preparing an event, you can include the impressions in your article, take photos and respond more specifically to your questions.
The challenge of an on-site interview is, above all, the effort. Because you not only have to record and write down the interview but also visit your interviewee. If your interviewee visits you, the time involved is, of course, less. But also, there you have to prepare for the visit so that the interviewee feels comfortable.
Important points to keep in mind during an on-site interview:
- Smalltalk / Introduction at the beginning: As with a telephone interview, the interview before the actual interview is important for a personal interview on-site. Here, if you should visit the interviewee, you can also relate well to things within the environment to break the ice.
- Body language: on the phone or when writing interview questions by email, it doesn’t bother you if you decide to paint the devil with your face, but on the spot, it is particularly important to use gestures and facial expressions that makes your interviewee relaxed. An open greeting is just as important as eye contact during the interview. Instead of exclaiming too often, it is better to let the interviewee talk quietly and nod from time to time.
In addition to the written interview, the telephone interview, or the on-site interview, there is also a video interview.
What mistakes you should avoid for an interview
Various dangers lurk, especially when conducting interviews. Below are some of the mistakes that should be avoided.
Inadequate preparation is one of the worst mistakes. It is particularly reflected in the course of the conversation, for example, by asking questions that only clarify basic information about the person. This means that there is no time for really interesting content.
Inappropriate Pronunciation of Interviewee’s name
The interviewee’s name is mispronounced. What happens then? The interviewee is embarrassed and feels compelled to correct the interviewer. Situations like this are not only uncomfortable but also change the mood between the conversation partners.
Always let your counterpart speak. Try not to cut him off. Of course, you have to keep an eye on the time and your interview guide. So think of a strategy on how to get the conversation back on the right path in case of doubt – politely.
How to Evaluate Qualitative Interviews?
The planning, implementation, and evaluation of expert interviews are an important part of writing scientific papers. The evaluation of the interviews, in particular, is often a difficulty for the students. The reason for this is, among other things, the multitude of different ways in which the evaluation can be carried out – one is never sure whether the chosen method is adequate and reliable. In the following section, we would like to introduce you to a proven method of evaluation, so that in future you will no longer have to fear and worry when it comes to evaluating qualitative interviews for scientific work.
Specifically, the evaluation of qualitative interviews includes the following work steps that build on one another:
1. Paraphrasing the qualitative interview
It is important to structure the text into individual text sections and to reproduce the content in your own words. It is important that the content of the conversation is completely recorded, regardless of the selected structure.
2. Thematic ordering when evaluating the interview
In the second step, you should use the paraphrased text to find headings and keywords that you can use to name the existing text sections. You should stay close to the text and sort the individual segments of the qualitative interview thematically and use the terminology of the interviewee.
In this phase of evaluating qualitative interviews, the text passages of different interviews have to be compared, and the headings standardized. The aim is to recognize and form thematic categories. As in the second phase, the thematic ordering, you should stay close to the text in your language.
4. Conceptualization based on empirical research
Here the categories formed are compared with empirically and theoretically appropriate studies, with experience or knowledge from your field of science and with your knowledge (e.g., from experiments carried out). Colloquial expressions may be brought into a scientifically appropriate form. The first interpretations and evaluations are carried out, but the generalization is initially limited to the material at hand.
5. Theoretical generalization
In this phase, it is interpreted and evaluated more deeply, and the corresponding theories are included. Thus, the theoretical generalization represents the actual core when evaluating qualitative and expert interviews. Individual topics are brought into an academic context. Own terms should be used in this step of the analysis!
6. Quote qualitative interviews
Once you have evaluated the qualitative interviews, there is also the option of quoting individual parts of the interviews in your work to confirm the results found and to support your hypotheses. These quotations should be limited to short sentences or parts of sentences – at least if the conversations were not recorded. Otherwise, there is a risk of incorrect transcripts and, thus, incorrect citation. If you would like to cite short quotes in your academic work, they are included with (name year) and in a separate section of the bibliography with name, first name (year): position in the company, area of responsibility, personal / telephone / written interview, place, date, time featured.
In general, the interviews and conversations must also be recorded in a separate directory – they can either be listed in part or in full in the appendix of the scientific work.
Help.open.ac.uk. 2020. Postgraduate Study Skills: Conducting An Interview | Help Centre | The Open University. [online] Available at:
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