The one-on-one interview is one of several techniques that researchers use to collect qualitative data. An interview is used to gather more detailed information than a survey or questionnaire can generally do. Interviews are used for a variety of reasons and may be used in conjunction with other data-gathering methods within a research study. Interviews might be used to collect information from eyewitnesses to an event (for example, an historical event such as the collapse of the Berlin Wall), to find out how people feel about changes in a law, or to gain a deeper understanding about customs and beliefs in a society. As with television or other media interviews, researches should aim to interview people with different perspectives on an event so that both (or all) sides of a story are presented. Interviews are labor-intensive, so they are not as widely used as other forms of data collection.
Keeping it Equal
Researchers using interviews, particularly if they are collecting information on a controversial topic, have to maintain neutrality and keep the interview process equal for all those being interviewed. To begin with, there must be a prepared list of questions that all subjects are asked. For the most part, these should be open-ended (as opposed to yes-no type questions). There should also be a prescribed list of follow-up questions that can be asked depending on the interviewee’s answers to the main questions. Follow-up questions should ask for clarification, further details or examples. If an interviewee strays from the topic, the interviewer should bring him back on topic.
It is important that interviewers not judge or lead those being interviewed. The person being interviewed must be able to answer the questions honestly and fully. The interviewer must record all answers as presented. Using an electronic recording, with the interviewee’s permission, is the best way to assure accuracy. However, using audio or video recording can influence the interviewee’s responses, particularly if the subject being discussed is controversial or could lead to problems if the identity of the interviewee is known. As with most research, subjects of the research and their responses should be kept confidential; there should be no connection between particular responses and the person who made them. In some cases, a person being interviewed may not want to take the chance that this connection can be made at some point in the future from a recording. In such a case, the person may not be able to be included in the research or alternative means of accurately recording the information must be found.
The setting for the interviews should be as consistent as possible. Interviews may take place in the homes of the people being interviewed, at the researcher’s office, or some other site, such as a library. Whatever the setting, it must allow for the interview to flow freely, without interruptions or anyone else hearing what is being said. Telephone (or online) interviews might also be part of the research procedures. Whatever the process, it should be as close to the same for each person interviewed as possible.
In research studies that use interviews, the interviews may be conducted by a team of researchers or research assistants. To maintain consistency, all the interviewers must be trained on how to ask the questions and how to record responses, including training on using electronic equipment if it is to be used. All interviewers must ask the questions in the same order and use the prescribed follow-up questions in the same way.
Developing an interview guide or protocol is especially important when there are multiple interviewers on a project, but it is also a good idea to have such a guide for an individual researcher. For one, it helps to maintain consistency across interviews. For another, it helps others who want to replicate the research to use the same methods. An interview guide should contain detailed procedures for conducting the interviews and the particular interview questions, including the order in which they are to be asked. Methods for recording the information during the interviews should also be described.
Interviewers should practice their interviewing techniques and protocols prior to interviewing subjects in the research project. Included in this practice should be how to greet the person being interviewed and how to make her feel comfortable so that she gives honest answers to the questions. Practice should also include how to keep an interview on topic and how to ask follow-up and probing questions.
A good way to practice interviewing, particularly if there are several interviewers, is to have them take turns asking and answering questions. In addition, the main researcher can play the part of the interviewee and purposely answer questions in such a way that makes the interviewer use the techniques for following up and keeping the interview on topic. Another technique that might be used is to have interviewers do practice interviews with people not in the study but who might be familiar with the topics. This can help to not only refine the interviewing skills but also refine the questions and interview techniques.
One-on-one interviews can be an important part of the data collection process. To learn more, consider pursuing a degree in data science.