Interviews are a critical component to many types of research, often conducted as one of many divers methods to collect rich individual data and storytelling evidence.
Click on the diagram below to learn the five steps for conducting effective interviews for research.
How to Conduct Interviews for Research
- Recruit Participants
Determine what it is you hope to learn from interviewing and identify the people that will provide you the richest data and information possible. Scope of interviewing can vary widely, so determine an effective number of people to interview in advance. If the questions you are going to ask are sensitive in nature, be sure to let interviewees know this in advance; obtain IRB (institutional review board) approval when interviewing on sensitive topics or when interviewing children.
- Establish a Recording Method
Interviews can be recorded in a number of ways. Commonly, interviewers will record using a phone app or other audio recording device. You may also wish to videorecord the interview, or simply take copious notes. Regardless of method, be sure that you obtain permission from each interviewee—in written format—before conducting the interview.
- Develop Questions
Determine whether it is best to conduct a structured interview or an unstructured interview (see explanations at the far right.) Develop questions that will provide rich and useful information. Avoid closed, yes/no questions. Rather, ask questions that will provide opportunity for interviewees to express feelings, attitudes, behaviors, opinions, perceptions, and so forth. Avoid leading questions (questions that make people feel or think a certain way before they have a chance to answer.)
- Interview Participants
Sit down with interviewees in a safe space where they feel comfortable and relaxed. Start with small talk to get them comfortable with you and talking out loud. If you are doing unstructured interviews, have your topics ready, but be prepared to have an open dialog with interviewee and ask follow-up questions when responses create interesting insights. When conducting structured interviews, be sure to stick to the questions and ask exactly the same questions to all interviewees.
- Conduct Further Research
Interviews are typically best when conducted as one piece of a larger research initiative. Much like a focus group, interviews give rich, insightful, albeit anecdotal evidence about how people feel and act. Interviews provide persuasive insights and direct quotes from people who “were there.” However, interviews are not typically quantifiable and should be supplemented with questionnaires, observations, and other research.