Doing Interviews S. Kathleen Kitao Kenji Kitao Keywords closed-ended question open-ended question mirror question probing question leading questions loaded questions pre-testing will discuss How to prepare for an interview, including types of questions to use and to avoid How to carry out the interview Preparing for the Interview When you interview someone, you ask questions with a particular purpose in mind. If you hope to achieve your purpose, your preparation is almost as important as the interview itself. There are three steps that you should go through to prepare for an interview. Three steps in preparing for an interview. 1. Determine what specific information is needed. 2. Select the interviewee(s). 3. Prepare your questions. 1. Determine what specific information is needed. In the case of doing interviews to gather information for a research project, this information is determined by your hypothesis or research question. Be as specific as possible about what you need to know. This allows you to do four things: a) decide who would be appropriate to interview b) find out more about the subject from other sources, so you can ask intelligent questions c) plan the specific questions and the overall strategy d) assess when you have achieved your goals. 2. Select the interviewee(s). Who you interview is determined to some extent by step 1. Given what you want to know, who can give you that information? • In the case of doing quantitative research, you choose your interviewees from the group of people that you are studying. – That is, if you are studying the interpersonal relationships of Japanese college students, you would interview Japanese college students. 3. Prepare your questions. Based on whom you are interviewing and what information you want to get from them, make a list of the questions you want to ask. You should realize that you will not necessarily follow your list of questions exactly, but you should have a basic list of questions that will help you achieve your purposes. Types of Questions Types of questions you should use 1. Closed-ended questions. 2. Open-ended questions. 3. Mirror questions 4. Probing questions 1. Closed-ended questions. Questions requiring a direct response • a "yes" or "no" answer • one or two sentences • clear “right” answers • related to a fact rather than an opinion, speculation, etc. • Examples: – "How old are you?" – “Have you ever been overseas?” – “How and when did you and your best friend meet?” 2. Open-ended questions. Questions that do not have a definite answer and that allow the interviewee to answer in any direction. • Asking for an opinion • Ask the interviewee to speculate about something • Examples – “How do you think Internet friendships are different from face-to-face friendships?” – "How do you think getting married will affect your career?" – “Do you think that your small group makes decisions more effectively when there is a strong leader? Why or why not?” 3. Mirror questions. Questions used to reflect back to the interviewee what you believe she/he said in order to check to make sure you understood correctly. Questions that might also be used to get her/him to elaborate on or clarify a point. This type of question both allows you to check your comprehension and gives you a chance to show the interviewee that you are listening carefully and are interested in what he/she is saying. Example: "If I understand what you are saying, you agree with the school's new policy, because it will allow students to take a wider variety of classes." 4. Probing questions. Questions used to get an interviewee to elaborate on or clarify a response. You use these when you do not understand what the interviewee meant. You also use them when the interviewee says something unexpected or interesting and you want to learn more. Examples: "Why do you say…?" “What do you mean when you say...?” You cannot plan these question in advance, but if you use them well as you are interviewing, you will often get interesting information. As you are writing your questions, you should keep your hypotheses or research questions in front of you, and you should compare each question you write with them. Will that question help you answer the question or test the hypothesis? If the answer is “no,” then you should not ask the question. Types of questions you should avoid. When you are writing questions for your interview, there are also two types of questions that you should not ask. They will not result in good responses, and they may make the interviewee distrust you. They are: 1. Leading questions 2. Loaded questions 1. Leading questions. Questions worded in a way that encourages a particular answer. Example: • In English, negative questions about an opinion encourage a positive answer. – The question "Don't you think that face-to-face friendships are more “real” than Internet friendships?" prompts the interviewee to answer "yes." This type of question should be avoided. The purpose of your interview is to find out about the interviewee and his/her opinions, not to urge the interviewee to give a certain response. 2. Loaded questions. Questions that assume something that may or may not be true. Example • "Why is it difficult for a small group to make a decision when it does not have a strong leader?" – What it really means is, “It is difficult for a small group to make a decision when it does not have a strong leader. Why do you think this is true?” – The assumption that the question is based on is that small groups do have difficulty making decisions without a strong leader. – Your interviewee may not agree with this assumption, and that makes it a difficult question to answer. – It may also lead the interviewee to a specific type of answer, and again, that is not what you want. – You want to know what the interviewee thinks and has experienced. Instead, you might ask: • “Do you think it is difficult for a small group to make a decision when it does not have a strong leader? Why or why not?” • Or: • “How does the lack of a strong leader affect a group’s ability to make a decision?” Deciding the Order of the Questions As you prepare for the interview, you should also think about the order in which to ask your questions. One method is to start with broad questions and move to specific ones. Another is to start with specific questions and move to broad ones. You may need to adjust your questions according to the responses you get. • If your interviewee is getting off the subject answering open- ended questions, you might need to switch to closed-ended questions. • If the interviewee is answering only "yes" or "no" to closed- ended questions, you might switch to open-ended questions. However, if you are doing interviews for a quantitative research project, you must be careful not to vary too much from the interview script. If the interviews are done too differently, it makes them difficult to compare from a quantitative point of view. Therefore, if you are doing interviews for a quantitative study, you should make certain you are getting the information you are asking for, without getting too far from the main point. Preserving the Results of the Interview You also need to decide how you will preserve the results of the interview. Making an audio or video tape of the interview. • Advantages – This would preserve the information. – You could always go back and listen to/watch it. • Disadvantages – It might make the interviewee self-conscious. – Equipment sometimes malfunctions. – Video equipment may be difficult to set up and handle. Taking notes. If this is what you decide to do, it is probably best to have a form to record the responses. If there are a limited number of possible responses, you can put them on the form and then just circle the one the interviewee indicates. Example: • If you ask, “Where did you meet your best friend?” you can put possible responses such as “at school,” “in my neighborhood,” “through a mutual friend.” • Then you can just circle the interviewee’s response. Whatever you can do to make it easier to record the response, you should include on the form. • Example: – If one question is “How long have you known your best friend?” you can put “____ years, ____ months” on the form and just fill in the numbers. • If you are asking questions that may have long answers, or an unlimited variety of answers, it may be difficult for you to write down everything. Pre-Testing Pre-test the interview script. Try it out by actually interviewing the kind of people for whom the interview is intended. Find out whether the interviewees understand the questions and whether you are getting the kinds of responses you need. This will also help you refine the response form, if you are using one, so that you can finding out what types of responses you get. Carrying Out the Interview Once you are ready to start interviewing, you need to go through several steps. 1. Arrange for the interview. 2. Open the interview. 3. Do the interview. 4. Close the interview. 5. Evaluate the interview. 6. Analyze the information 1. Arrange for the interview. Identify yourself and the purpose of the interview. Try to do the interview at a time and place that is convenient for the interviewee. 2. Open the interview. Before you start the interview itself, try to put the interviewee at ease, if necessary, and build rapport. In a general way, you can explain what the interview is about, though you do not want to give too much information, since that might influence the interviewee’s responses. For example, you might say, “I’m doing interviews to learn about how people communicate with co-workers.” You might also thank the interviewee for taking the time to be interviewed. 3. Do the interview. Ask the questions that you have prepared but adjust the questions according to the responses that you are getting. Use probing questions and mirror questions to follow up on answers given during the interview. Throughout the interview, you should evaluate the answers you are getting. Do you understand them? • If not, ask the interviewee to repeat the answer, or ask mirror questions. Are you getting the specific information you need? • If not, ask probing questions. If the interviewee says something particularly interesting, use probing questions to get him/her to elaborate on that point. 4. Close the interview. You should not just stop the interview. You can finish by emphasizing important points or summarizing. You should definitely thank the interviewee, and mention that the interview has been helpful. 5. Evaluate the interview. After the interview, ask yourself whether you got the information you wanted. If not, why not? In any case, ask yourself how the interview could have been improved. 6. Analyze information. The last step is to synthesize the information into report or whatever your final product is. In the case of using an interview in a quantitative research study, you need to count the responses that fall into particular categories. Checklist As you are preparing for and doing an interview, you can use the following list. Preparing for the Interview 1. Decide what specific information you need. 2. Decide who you will interview. 3. Prepare your questions. a. Combine open-ended and closed-ended questions as appropriate. b. Be certain that you are avoiding both leading and loaded questions. 4. Decide on the order of your questions. 5. Decide how you will record the results of the interview. 6. Pre-test your interview script and adjust it as necessary. Doing the Interview 1. Contact the interviewees and arrange for the interviews. 2. Open the interview by putting the interviewee at ease, if necessary. 3. Briefly explain the purpose of the interview. 4. As you do the interview, evaluate the answers you are getting. a. Adjust the order of the questions as necessary. b. Use mirror questions and probing questions as 5. Close the interview by summarizing the content or emphasizing an important point. 6. Express your appreciation to the interviewee. After the Interview 1. Evaluate the interview to decide if you got the information you wanted. 2. Analyze the information from the interview. Conclusion Interviews have the advantage that they are more flexible than questionnaires. However, it is more difficult to gather large amounts of information. To do successful interviews, the preparation is very important. You need to write good questions. As you are carrying out the interview, you need to be flexible both about the order of the questions and in asking mirror and probing questions.
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