What is it?
“An interview in qualitative research is a conversation where questions are asked to elicit information. The interviewer is usually a professional or paid researcher, sometimes trained, who poses questions to the interviewee, in an alternating series of usually brief questions and answers” – Wikipedia
“A qualitative research interview seeks to cover both a factual and meaning level, though it is usually more difficult to interview on a meaning level.” – (Kvale, 1996)
“Interviews are particularly useful for getting the story behind a participant’s experiences. The interviewer can pursue in-depth information around the topic. Interviews may be useful as follow-up to certain respondents to questionnaires, e.g., to further investigate their responses” – (McNamara, 1999)
This website has a nice wrap up about it – A Guide to Interview Guides
What kinds of questions/problems might be useful for interviews?
Below is a take from the 9 different types of questions that may be used in an interview situation by Kvale. They’re defined by the effect that will hopefully be achieved by using them.
1. Introducing Questions
How will you get the interview started? If the interview is opened well and the interviewee speaks freely, then the remainder of the interview can be spent clarifying and following up on any interesting points raised.
- ‘Can you tell me about…’
- ‘Could you describe in as much detail as possible’
2. Follow-up Questions
These questions are used to extend the interviewee’s answers to previous questions. The trick is to listen to what is important to the interviewee but to keep in mind your research questions at all times.
- ‘Could you expand on that point’
- ‘You mentioned that … how did you feel about it.’
- To follow on from a point the interviewee has made you don’t necessarily have to ask a question. A nod, ‘mm’ or even a pause may indicate to the interviewee to carry on.
3. Probing Questions
The interviewer probes the content of the interviewee’s answers but without giving away which parts of the answers are to be taken into account.
- ‘Do you have further examples of this?’
- ‘Could you say something more about that.’
4. Specifying Questions
The interviewer asks questions that will allow them to gain further information about particular aspects of the interviewee’s answer.
- ‘What did you think then?’
- ‘How did your body react?’
If the interviewee has given fairly generalized answers, a specifying question could be used to personalize the answer.
- ‘Have you experienced this yourself?’
5. Direct Questions
The interviewer asks very direct questions, often used in the later parts of the interview.
- ‘Have you ever received money for achieving good grades?’
- ‘When you mention competition, do you then think of a sportsman like or a destructive competition?’
6. Indirect Questions
The interviewer asks protective questions. Care should be taken to ensure that the answer is interpreted correctly in this situation. Further questions may be required to determine exactly what the interviewee means.
- ‘How do you believe other pupils regard the competition for grades?’
In this instance you would need to determine whether the pupil’s answer refers directly to the attitudes of the other students or indirectly to their own attitude.
7. Structuring Questions
The interviewer needs to ensure that those areas relevant to the research question are covered during the course of the interview and can use questions to structure the interview accordingly.
- ‘I would now like to introduce a new topic: …’
The interviewer should also consider politely breaking off long answers if they become irrelevant to the research questions.
Silence can be a useful tool in furthering the interview. It allows the interviewee’s a chance to reflect on what has been discussed. They may then be able to offer more information.
9. Interpreting Questions
How or to what degree you interpret a question may involve rephrasing the answer and putting it to the interviewee or attempting to clarify their answers.
- ‘You mean that …?’
- ‘Is it correct that you feel that..?’
Another type you may have heard of is a ‘leading question’. Which can be defined as ‘a question that you ask in a particular way in order to get the answer you want’. These should be avoided as they can obviously have an adverse effect on your results.
3. How could it be used in IT research?
Well I can think of two ways off the top of my head, one could be to talk to someone who’s created something IT related like software to help you or others understand their software. Keeping on the same subject of software, you can test software out on people and then interview them to find out their opinion on the software to see what needs to be changed or what you are doing right.
4. What are the strengths of the approach
- Personalized – it focuses on the people rather than the facts and data you’ve been collecting before the interview. (or after the interview – research can be a never ending process)
- Clarification – if you have a question about the research you have done and there is someone that could clarify this for you, conducting an interview can help you find answers that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to find by just looking at the data.
- Practical – they aren’t that hard to administer, and the person doesn’t even have to be in the same location as you. Even if time zones are an issue, you can alternate to a written interview through emails or instant messages.
- Flexible – questions can be created to suit any kind of research and any kinds of persons.
5. What are the weaknesses of the approach?
- Restricted sample range – you can only interview those who have knowledge on the subject or have participated in trials or exercises that relate to what you need to gain more knowledge about. Whatever the situation, you’ll always have a limited amount of people you can interview, and from that limited amount you are also limited to the people that can give you answers that will help continue your research along. (i.e. people who can explain exactly what they experienced or felt about what you are asking about)
- Expensive – interviews can be both time consuming and cost money. Time = money not just for you but for the people you are interviewing.
- Interviewee’s aren’t always truthful – you can only judge what they are saying at face value as even if what they say is truthful, it is there truth and may not end up being a comparable result to others you have interviewed.
- Interviewee’s may forget – everyone is forgetful.
- Interviewee’s may lack the information required – like stated in the restricted sample range, they may not have the information you need or struggle to explain what they mean in a way that is relevant to what you need.
- Influence – your own influence, whether intentional or not, can create a change in the results.
- Bias – everyone has their own bias. Whether they realise it or not.
Ideas for Weaknesses and Strengths taken from this post – Lost Entropy