How to Conduct Interviews for Academic Research Studies?

19 November 2020

Qualitative interviews are an excellent data collection method for providing a deeper understanding of the research topic. It encourages stakeholders to provide their perspectives on the topic, allowing opportunities to explore other ideas that were not initially considered. Interviews can be particularly useful for exploring the 'why' and 'how' of a particular phenomenon, behaviour or context. In this article, we explore tips for conducting a successful interview. 

Before the interview

Preparation is key! Successful interviews rely on careful planning and preparation. As the researcher, you want to give enough time to prepare yourself and the person you will be interviewing before the interview. Here are some useful preparation tips:

1. Familiarise yourself with the research question

All research studies start with an aim. Reflect on the focus and scope of the research question. Reading the literature will provide some understanding of the current knowledge of the topic and identify the research gaps yet to be explored. Familiarising yourself with the research topic will facilitate the construction of the interview schedule. 

2. Designing and piloting your interview questions

When constructing your interview schedule, it is important to ensure that the interview questions are phrased appropriately. Avoid research jargon as much as possible and use simple layman terms. Additionally, using open-ended questions rather than closed questions can better elicit additional responses from the interviewee. It might also be helpful to include follow-up questions or prompts to encourage the interviewee to expand on their perspectives. Piloting the interview schedule with peers would be beneficial to obtain feedback on the language and clarity of the research questions. It also provides an opportunity for you as a researcher to practice asking the questions and test the audio recording equipment that you will be using.

3. Choose a suitable interview setting

The setting or the environment plays an important role in facilitating the interviewee's comfort during the interview. Pick an interview setting is free from any noise or potential disruptions. It is best to liaise with the interviewee on a location and time that would be both comfortable and convenient for them.

During the interview

1. Obtain consent

Similar to every other research study, it is important to obtain consent before starting the interview. Provide the participant with a summary of the research project, including the aims and significance of the study. Explain that their participation is voluntary, and they can withdraw at any time without prejudice. If you are using a tape recorder, obtain consent to audio record the interview. 

2. Build rapport

Establishing good rapport is essential in an interview process. This helps the participant to feel more comfortable when discussing their perspectives and experiences. You could start initiating a casual conversation such as asking them about their day. Thank the participant for volunteering to do the interview and let them know that you appreciate that their opinion - there are no right or wrong answers. 

3. Show interest and listen attentively

As the interviewer, it is critically important to eliminate any personal bias and keep a neutral stance during the interview process. The interviewer should try to remain non-judgemental and show interest in what the respondent is saying. Listen attentively by using facial expressions and body language that show that you are engaged in the conversation. 

After the interview

1. Transcribe the interviews as soon as possible

Transcription is a process of converting the audio recording of an interview to a written format. Qualitative interviews are typically transcribed verbatim, which means recording the same words used by the participant. Following the interview, it is best to transcribe the interview as soon as possible. This helps the researcher to start familiarising themselves with the interview and compare the similarities and differences between other interviewees.

2. Complete member checking

Member checking is a technique to ensure your interview data and findings is credible. After transcribing the interviews, a copy of the transcript could be sent to the participant for reviewing. This provides the opportunity for the participant to check the transcript, edit what they have said or add any other information that they missed.