Interview Methods


  1. Identify the person you would like to interview and initiate contact with her/him.

+ It could take some time to work out the scheduling, so do this ASAP.
+ Be sure to identify who you are - a college student at Marymount Manhattan College. Mention that you are working on a research paper and indicate your topic/title.
+ Let me know immediately if you have trouble making contact and maybe I can help.
2. Develop a set of questions in advance to focus your interview. Do as much research as possible ahead of time on the person and/or topic you are working on. This is an opportunity to find out how your interviewee might respond to your 6 research questions.
3. Conduct and record ‚Äúthe interview‚Äù. I would like you to conduct your interview live and in person. Please get in touch with me if this won't be possible.

The questions:

Types of Questions

  1. Behaviors - about what a person has done or is doing
  2. Opinions/values - about what a person thinks about a topic
  3. Feelings
  4. Knowledge - to get facts about a topic
  5. Sensory - about what people have seen, touched, heard, tasted or smelled
  6. Background/demographics - standard background questions, such as age, education, job, etc.

Sequence of Questions

  1. Get the respondents involved in the interview as soon as possible.
  2. Before asking about controversial matters (such as feelings and conclusions), first ask about some facts. With this approach, respondents can more easily engage in the interview before warming up to more personal matters.
  3. Intersperse fact-based questions throughout the interview to avoid long lists of fact-based questions, which tends to leave respondents disengaged.
  4. Ask questions about the present before questions about the past or future. It's usually easier for them to talk about the present and then work into the past or future.
  5. The last questions might be to allow respondents to provide any other information they prefer to add and their impressions of the interview.

Wording of Questions

  1. Wording should be open-ended. Respondents should be able to choose their own terms when answering questions. For the most part, avoid questions that can be answered "yes" or "no."
  2. Questions should be as neutral as possible. Avoid wording that might influence answers, e.g., evocative, judgmental wording. Don't lead your subject.
  3. Questions should be asked one at a time.
  4. Questions should be worded clearly. This includes knowing any terms particular to the topic or the respondents' culture.

The interview:

Preparation for Interview

  1. Choose a setting with little distraction. Avoid loud lights or noises, ensure the interviewee is comfortable (you might ask them if they are), etc. Often, they may feel more comfortable at their own places of work or homes. Come prepared with paper and pen(cils) and a recording device.
  2. Explain the purpose of the interview.
  3. Discuss confidentiality. Ask them if it is okay to quote them directly. If not, you can offer to use a pseudonym, etc.
  4. Ask them if they have any questions before you both get started with the interview.
  5. Don't count on your memory to recall their answers. Ask for permission to record the interview and take notes or bring along someone to take notes. Be sure to ask their permission before recording.

Carrying Out Interview

  1. Some casual conversation to start with will relax both of you.
  2. Give the respondent time to answer. Be a good listener. If he or she goes on and on, it is appropriate to move on as politely as you can. You might say something such as: "Fine, but let me ask you thisÔøΩ
  3. Occasionally verify the tape recorder (if used) is working.
  4. Ask one question at a time.
  5. Attempt to remain as neutral as possible. That is, don't show strong emotional reactions to their responses.
  6. Encourage responses with occasional nods of the head, "uh huh"s, etc. Try to draw out specifics: How long, how many, when, "can you elaborate on that", etc.
  7. Provide transition between major topics, e.g., "we've been talking about (some topic) and now I'd like to move on to (another topic)."
  8. Don't lose control of the interview. This can occur when respondents stray to another topic, take so long to answer a question that times begins to run out, or even begin asking questions to the interviewer.

Immediately After Interview

  1. Verify if the tape recorder, if used, worked throughout the interview.
  2. Write down any observations made during the interview. For example, where did the interview occur and when? Were there any surprises during the interview?
  3. As soon as it's practical after the interview, find a quiet place to review your handwritten notes. In your haste while taking notes, you may have written abbreviations for words that won't mean anything to you a day or two later. Or some of your scribbling may need deciphering, and, again, it is more likely you'll be better able to understand the scribbles soon after the interview.
  4. Underline or put stars alongside quotes that seemed most compelling. It will speed the process when you get to the writing stage. One other thing to look for in your notes: the quote you wrote down might not make a lot of sense, unless you remember what specific question it was responding to. In short, fill in whatever gaps exist in your notes that will help you better understand them when writing.

Other resources:
Bill Clinton interviewd on Fox News
Silbey, S. Conversational Interviewing Techniques. - see pdf below

Susan_Silbey_Interiew_Techniques.pdf212.39 KB