10.07.2008

Five tips for conducting interviews

I am a big believer in informal, qualitative interviews. There is certainly a place for statistical, quantitative research, but when you want to uncover motivations or capture specific details, you cannot beat just sitting down with someone for a good 30-minute conversation. This can be a difficult task, though. Here are five tips to facilitating more in-depth interviews:


  1. Ask why. You may have been told to never ask “yes or no” questions. This is a nice idea in theory, but I gotta tell you, it is nearly impossible in a long form interview. So, instead of simply never asking a “yes or no” question, just follow them up with a “why?” and see what happens.

  2. Ask for examples. This gets people to tell a story. Sure the story may not be riveting, but at least it is a story. This type of question forces people to get down to details. The details are where the real meat lies. And if they cannot give you a real example, then they are probably not answering truthfully.

  3. Ask about the subject. You may want information about something else, but you might want to start by asking about the person you are talking to. You see, it is far easier to talk about yourself. You have more information about yourself and your perspective. This is a good way to get people comfortable with answering questions. Once they are comfortable you can take the conversation to different places.

  4. Tell a story yourself. We live in a sound bite culture. Therefore we sometimes think that the proper answer to a question is short and concise. Well, in an interview situation where you are trying to get to underlying motives or issues, sound bite answers don’t help the cause. Feel free to tell a story about yourself related to the topic. It shows the subject that it is okay to take time to fully answer the question by providing concrete examples.

  5. Don’t try to fill awkward silences. When someone is actually trying to form a solid answer to a question, it is natural for them to think for a few moments. This may create periods of silence, but that is okay. Give them a moment to collect their thoughts.

The idea here is not to try to manufacture conversation. This is not an exercise in controlling the other party. You don’t want to force answers on the other person. Instead, you want to enable a conversation to go where it may. If you do this, you will never be disappointed with the answers.

What are some tips you have on conducting qualitative interviews?

Photo courtesy of Flickr user wok.

2 comments:

Laura said...

Good advice, JD! You sound like a veteran journalist. "Why?" and "can you give me an example of that?" will lead to a much deeper understanding - and a more interesting conversation - every time!

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