Interview Question Design Tips

There are many excellent books about qualitative research design.  These are especially valuable for those who are working without access to a mentor.  Even for those who have had classes, read books and worked with mentors, when it comes to actually designing a study, it is easy to forget some of the finer points.  This can lead to research designs (for example, interview questions) that need improvement.  As a grad student, I had the great good fortune to work with several first-rate teachers of qualitative research — Steven J. Taylor, Marion Lundy Dobbert, Gary Allen Fine, and Michael Quinn Patton.  Each generation of scholars and researchers must learn anew.  So, I pass their legacy along as I am able.

In the interest of brevity, from time to time, I will pass along a couple of “tips and tricks” to keep in mind when designing qualitative studies.  In this post, I offer three tips for avoiding design errors that can undermine the quality of your interview questions.  The media environment may tilt us all toward formulating suboptimal and problematic interview questions.  We hear a LOT of journalists posing questions that are fine for journalism, but not for social science.

Today’s tips:

Avoid “DOUBLE-BARRELED” questions.  (Asking two questions rolled into one.)  Example: “What jobs did you do at home and how did you feel about them?”  Too complicated to answer!  It can also be hard to analyze answers because in some cases, you might not be able to tell which question the interviewee is referencing in their reply.

Avoid LEADING questions.  Note that the question above is also a LEADING question.  It introduces the term “jobs” into the conversation about home life, therefore “leading” the interviewee to (perhaps) narrow her focus to a particular domain or way of thinking about her experiences.  It also assumes that we have all had “jobs” (and also that we think of certain kinds of activities as such).

And finally, avoid WHY questions.  This is because we never really know why.  Therefore, when asked, we tend to just make something up to be polite.  Again, it is just too complicated!  Better to employ that trusty tactic — “Tell me more about that…” after the interviewee “spontaneously” introduces a term or an experience that is relevant to the research question.

There you are — a few things to ponder as you (hopefully, also) enjoy the joys of the summer season.

–EdProf