Semi-Structured Interview Field Guide
Choosing a Topic
1. Find an idea or phenomenon you are passionate about. 2. Be honest with yourself. Does the topic invoke too much emotion or anxiety to effectively carry out the research? 3. Consider time and money constraints. Map out your resources.
4. Continually read related literature to make your topic more clear and focused.
5. Sometimes the best way to fully understand your topic is by beginning the data collection process. (Glesne, 2011, p. 29 – 31).
Developing Research Questions
There are two main categories of interview questions: research and interview . Research questions are what you want to understand and answer. Whereas interview questions are what you want to ask a participant to answer your research question. Interview questions are also more concrete and defined. In either case they should be developed together and each should work to answer the other (p. 104).
Within the two types of questions researchers can ask open-ended questions which develop as the interview progresses. Their questions can also be focused on understanding a respondent's opinion, feelings, knowledge, past experiences, behaviors, or background. The researcher should identify categories of questions that will attempt to draw out information most vital to their work.
Part of this process is also building rapport. Semi-structured interviews, by their nature, allow for flexibility with respondents. Initially, questions about a person's experiences are the most effective questions to begin with. Once a respondent slowly understands the nature of your questions and feels comfortable with the dialogue between the researcher and themselves they are more likely to give more in-depth answers(Glesne, 2011, p. 102 - 103, 107 - 109).
- Develop a list of questions against your topic, modify if needed.
- Collaborate with peers on your topic, research and interview questions.
- Allow your peers to offer suggestions about your work so far.
- Locate a pilot subject from the group you are interested in studying.
- Ask them to answer your questions honestly and provide feedback.
- Make necessary corrections to your topic and questions based off of the analysis of yourself, your peers, and a pilot subject (Glesne, 2011, p. 110).
Examples of Who to Study
Typical Case - a study on hospital staff: doctors, nurses, phlebotomist
Extreme Case - a study on student debt: people with large debt and those with none
Homogenous - a study on athletes: only study African-American, semi-pro, male skiers
Maximum variation - a study on teachers: study teachers from various age groups
Theoretical - a study on bullying: collect initial data on bullying then continually identify new groups to study based off o previous samples
Network Sampling - a study on drug-use: finding participants through a loved one
Convenience Sampling - a study on job growth: asking people in your office (Glesne, 2011, p. 45)
"Do's" and "Dont's" of Time and Place
Do select a quite, comfortable place to meet/ Don't demand a location to meet
Do meet at a time acceptable for the respondent / Don't show up late
Do meet at an accessible location/ Don't meet at a place which risks confidentiality
Do stay flexible about duration of interview / Don't abruptly end an interview
Do keep an open mind about location/ Don't always stay in your comfort zone
Do meet as much as the research needs/ Don't pressure the respondent to meet
(Glesne, 2011, p. 113 - 115)
Confidentiality and Ethics
A participant's right to privacy should be a primary concern for all researchers. Their anonymity and any information shared in an interview, face to face or electronically, should be closely guarded. Ethically, a researcher should avoid obtrusiveness, over disclosure to peers, deception (even unintentional), over-sharing of their opinions, and should be transparent about the interview process with respondents (Glesne, 2011, p. 134, 171 - 175).
Recording, Transcription, and Other Advice
- Organize your thoughts, interview questions, and notes prior to the first interview
- If you are going to utilize recording devices in an interview, ask the respondent first
- Make sure any equipment used during an interview is operational
- Have a field journal handy to take notes during an interview
- Utilize transcription software which will reduce time from recorder to document
- Try to avoid a preconceived notion of how the interview is supposed to go
- If need be, allow the interview to develop into a conversation
- (Glesne, 2011, p. 102 - 104, 115 - 117)
Conclusion and Follow-Up
The key to concluding and following up with a respondent is by communicating your plan of action. Let them know how long you want sessions to run, how many times you would like to meet, and let them know there may be some follow up interview sessions. Ask them which method of communication works best, discuss time and place, and ultimately try and coordinate an environment where the respondent feels comfortable and willing to discuss their experiences (Glesne, 2011, p. 114 - 115, 118 - 120).
Glesne, C. (2011). Becoming qualitative researchers .
Boston, MA: Pearson Education.