When you conduct interviews, you can find out a lot. You collect primarily qualitative data. (There are some tricks to collect quantitative data as well.) Before you start an interview, it is crucial that you have well-defined interview questions. Because you don't ask questions just for fun: respondents have to answer the central question of your research. That is why I am giving you tips on how to design your interview questions as well as possible:

    1. Have clearly worded main and sub-questions ready.
    2. Ask questions that connect to your main and sub-questions. To ensure all of them can be answered, mark behind each question which main or sub-question the question connects to.
    3. Put the questions in a logical order that avoids overlap.
    4. Include introductory text in your interview questions. This text should state why participants are being interviewed and how long the interview will take.
    5. Formulate your questions so that the interviewee understands them. You can test this by practicing the protocol with your colleagues. This way, you will also notice if your questions are asked in the proper order.
    6. Make sure to ask your questions objectively. This will prevent biases that will cause the research to produce the wrong answers and will allow for continued questioning during your interview. Prejudice occurs when you ask leading questions such as "Don't you agree?", "Would you...?" or "Is it true that...?".
    7. Make sure there is room to ask more in-depth questions. In-depth questions start with 'why', 'how', 'what' and 'who'. In these questions, you will find the 'gold nuggets' that will provide special insights for your research.
    8. Write a closing text explaining what will be done with the survey results.

    Finally, I would like to inform you that remaining objective during the interview is essential. Your own opinion plays no role in this; make sure the interviewee can tell their own story.

    More tips to prepare for your interview? Then please read my blog '15 tips for a good interview'.

Many people think of interviewing as the widely used method in which the interviewer asks questions to the interviewee. But there are other ways to interview. In this blog, I'll give you some examples.

  1. Mind mapping: ask your respondents to write down as much information as possible concerning a central topic. Give your respondent(s) enough time to do this, and then discuss the mind map together. The advantage of mind mapping is that you give respondents the freedom to map out their thoughts and provide them with the opportunity to come up with unexpected ideas. This way, you open doors during the interview that would otherwise remain closed.
  1. Post-it: At a few points during the interview, ask your respondents to summarize the interview up to this point in keywords on post-it notes. Ask them to structure these notes. At the end of the interview, discuss the content and structure of the post-it notes. Because you let the respondents structure the interview themselves and allow them to respond immediately, you increase the validity of your research.
  1. Use existing (visual) material: during the interview, you let the respondent(s) react to an image, film, sound clip, or data. After an initial reaction, you can use the material to ask various questions or start a (group) discussion. The use of various resources makes an interview livelier. The conversation becomes different by talking about something tangible in front of you or something you just watched together. By waiting for the reactions, you can get unexpected responses.
  1. Fill in a schedule or timeline together: you can structure your interview with a plan or timeline that you make up together. Respondents can thus structure their experience, opinion, and knowledge. During the interview, black holes stand out that you can fill in or explain together. If the time frame is extensive, you can use a white roll of wallpaper in a group interview. That way, everyone has insight into the timeline. Respondents will make highlights while filling in a schedule or timeline. It helps respondents when they can work visually assisted.

Twitter

- #Tip Use a different interviewing method than the widely used question-answer. LINK

- Another new blog is online. Interviewing: What forms are there, and when do you use them? LINK

- Besides the well-known question and answer method, there are other ways you can interview. You can read more examples in this blog: LINK

- With an interview, you don't always have to work with a prepared questionnaire. You can also let respondents get started themselves. LINK

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The reliability of a study points to the extent to which the findings are interpretable to a larger whole. In other words, whether the results represent the entire group and not just the respondents. Did enough respondents complete the questionnaire?

The reliability rate indicates the probability that repeating the survey will produce the same results. With a confidence level of 95%, there is a 95% chance that the answers will be the same with other respondents within this target group. Depending on the type of survey, a reliability rate of 95% to 99% is typically adhered to.

How many respondents are needed depends on how large the research population is. Is the research related to a large group, such as Dutch youngsters between 15 and 18 years old who have participated in a particular project, or a small group, such as public libraries within a certain cao or all inhabitants of Persingen (village with less than 100 inhabitants in Gelderland)? In the case of a large research population, you need more respondents than with a small group. But with a small research population, you need a relatively more prominent part of your research population. I use a practical guideline: with large groups (from 5,000 onward), you need about 400 respondents; for smaller groups, this number increases. The exact calculation depends on various factors, such as margin of error* and the Homogeneity of the research population**. Here I use the sample calculator as a guideline and then stay on the safe side.

Reliability also depends on whether you have asked the right people. Did you only invite people you know to fill out the questionnaire or of whom you know they are satisfied? Or did you randomly select people? In my blog on sampling, I describe how to select the right respondents. Note that not everyone you ask will cooperate in the survey. In addition, a number of questionnaires are always dropped because they are not correctly completed (few questions completed or internally incongruent). Therefore, your sample should be larger than the number of completed questionnaires you need.

* Error margin: The percentage by which the answer may differ from reality. This is similar, for example, to the correction of speed measurements. The speed measurement contains a possible margin of error of 5%, for which traffic control always corrects to the lower value.

** Homogeneity of the study population: The degree to which the members of the study population are similar to each other. For example, students participating in a project are very different from each other (they are about the same age but have very different opinions) and are therefore not a homogeneous research population. In that case, it is better to draw the sample larger. In contrast, groups that voluntarily visit each other and are questioned on a topic will be more homogeneous, and there will be a less extreme divergence of opinions. This, in turn, allows for more detailed questions to be asked.

Suppose you want to research a target group of as many as 10,000 people. Do you have to interview all 10,000 people to get the right results? Certainly not; only a part of the research population needs to participate in your research to get representative results. Let me explain what representativeness means and when the results are deemed characteristic.

Representativeness means the degree to which the respondents in a sample group are a good reflection of the target group of your research. Therefore, your research is representative, which means that the conclusion of your research is true for 'everyone' in your research population.

A sample

If you have a research population of 10,000 people, you will ultimately need to interview 400 people to arrive at the opinion of the larger group. This does not mean that you only need to approach 400 people. You have to deal with a response rate. This is the percentage of people who participate in your survey. Your response rate depends on the subject you are researching, how easy and fun it is to participate in your research, and what people get in return. I often use a response rate of 30% because I usually research fun subjects, and I am experienced in making it easy to participate in a survey. I also ask the client for a nice gift for the people who participate in the survey. Tips to increase your response rate

Because not everyone will participate in your survey, you will need to have a larger sample group. If you need 400 respondents and assume a response rate of 30%, you will need to interview a sample group of 400/30%=1,333.

When you conduct a survey, you must keep in mind that the smaller the research population is, the larger the number of respondents will be to arrive at the desired representative results. Sometimes, however, respondents' input is more valuable than the number of participants. In this case, you're referring to qualitative research, and it can be more important to focus on the research results than the representativeness in some cases.

If you want to know how many respondents you need for your research population: go to a sample calculator. These will often immediately tell you how many people you need to approach in your sample.

From the conversations I have with various people who do research stems some confusion about the term research methods. There are theories on which you can conduct a research study, and you have multiple ways of collecting data.

In my blogs, I regularly talk about research methods, referring to the various ways of collecting data.

Once you have clarity about your research questions, you examine what information you can collect and how. There are many different methods to do this. You have qualitative research methods and quantitative research methods. Qualitative research methods are not about facts and figures but rather about how and why. Quantitative research methods are more about facts and figures that can be compared. Also, check out my blog about the difference between qualitative and quantitative research methods.

There are all sorts of research methods. My overview blog of different research methods lists different ways. Also, be creative with the ways you collect data. Look beyond the standard practices of research and make interesting combinations.

Once you have chosen a research method, thorough preparation is essential. Look at what you need per method and take the time to set up your measuring instrument properly. Discuss it with colleagues and test the measuring instrument before using it.

It is not always necessary to collect all the data yourself. You may also use existing sources. Think of databases like SCP or CBS, from which you can buy data, but also from your own administration or cash register system. Use existing databases if you want to know more about a particular subject on which national data is collected or if you require quantitative data about your own organization. A lot of data is readily available. Just make clever use of this.

TIPS

  1. Formulate a clear purpose and research question and sub-questions that you seek answers to with existing research sources.
  2. Provide keywords and search terms derived from your purpose and research question. This will give you a clear direction to look for relevant sources.
  3. Collect current information.
  4. Make sure the sources are relevant to your problem statement.
  5. Keep track of which information you get from where, so you and your client can see which sources were used.
  6. The information provided by existing data sources does not always fully match the problem statement or might be incomplete. In such cases, it is wise to combine existing source research with other research methods.

The range of research methods on offer is enormous, so you can sometimes not see the wood for the trees. That's why I give you a handy overview of different research methods in this blog. With some of the research methods, you will find a link to a blog with more information.

In this overview, I characterize quantitative and qualitative research methods. Would you like to know more about these? In my previous blog, 'When to choose: qualitative research or quantitative research,' you will find information about the difference between these two types of research.

Qualitative Research

Quantitative research

One of our most-read blogs is about the questions you should ask in a process evaluation. Such an evaluation is focused on the way you work and (have) worked together. Yet, at the start of the project, you also have questions, and in the interim and after the end of a project, you want to make the effects insightful: What is the initial situation? What assumptions have we made, and are they correct? Has the goal been achieved? To what extent has the target group been reached? What are the success factors of the project? And what are the points for improvement? During a project evaluation, you hold the result up against the light. With this information, you can improve the project and future projects. Questions you can ask during the various phases of the project:

At the start of the project

Interim

After the project is completed

Answer these questions within the project team and involve other parties, such as the focus group, collaborative partners, and other stakeholders.

Observation is a method of finding out and recording actual behavior. You choose the observation method to determine how activities, programs, or projects are received and when you want to register spontaneous reactions. While observing, you make an objective report of what you see; there is no direct contact with the respondents. I give you some tips on how to observe effectively:

  1. When observing, use an observation list. With a structured observation list, you consistently record objective information, and you can quickly analyze the collected data.
  2. While observing, show an open and inquisitive attitude. Avoid jumping to conclusions about behaviors. Make an objective report of what you see.
  3. Name or record verbatim what you actually see happening, not what you think is happening.
  4. Don't just look at random gestures. A loose gesticulation doesn't say much. Its meaning becomes understandable only when combined with other gestures and signals.
  5. Depending on the situation, make it known that you will observe people, for example, if you will follow them during the activity.
  6. Combine observations with a (short) interview to indicate what you have seen.
  7. By making many observations, you can make representative statements about your research topic or group with supporting figures.
  8. The observers should be given clear instructions so that everyone records the observed in the same way and that interpretation of observation is avoided. To make different observers equal, you can do the first observations together.
  9. When observing, you can use all kinds of technical aids. There are various tracking devices on the market, but you can also consider a stopwatch to help you measure how long someone is using something.
  10. Always observe and consider the circumstances. If someone is standing in a cold room with their arms tightly crossed, chances are they are not defensive and closed, but simply cold.
  11. Make a schedule of when to observe in advance and do so at different times under different conditions so that the picture you get is as varied and complete as possible.
  12. Disrupt the situation you are observing as little as possible. Thus, do not talk to those being observed and be as inconspicuous as possible.

There are different things to consider when organizing and conducting a group interview than during an individual interview. With group interviews, you are dealing with group dynamics. Below are 10 tips for leading a group interview:

  1. Start organizing the group discussions well in advance. You otherwise run the risk that not enough people can join. Scheduling the group interview well ahead of time increases the likelihood that everyone will attend.
  2. Make sure the minutes are written by someone who is experienced in it. Writing the minutes for a group discussion is more complicated because of the dynamics of several participants speaking.
  3. If you are not sure the reporter will be able to keep up with the live coverage, then make a video or audio recording of the interview and write out the minutes later. Ensure that the recording equipment is present and ready to use before you decide to use the equipment.
  4. Make sure your interlocutors feel comfortable. Provide them with a pleasant ambiance, something to drink, and a snack.
  5. Have everyone at the table introduce themselves so that everyone knows with whom they are sitting at the table. Create a cheat sheet with names and functions/backgrounds for the participants at the table.
  6. Make sure everyone gets a chance to speak.
  7. Pay attention to the body language of the participants.
  8. Monitor time and stick to the agreed time frames. It's disappointing when you don't get to ask all of your questions.
  9. Explain what will be done with the results of the interview. Also, explain what you will do with the minutes made of the exchange (including the audio recording). Will you be the only one who has access to these files, or will you publish it? In the latter case, make sure you get feedback on the minutes before publishing them.
  10. Summarize during the interview and relay your statement back to the group to make sure everybody understood the message the same way.

Tweets

10 tips for holding a group discussion http://bit.ly/1L0zJW6

When having a group discussion, make a map of the table with names and function as a cheat sheet http://bit.ly/1L0zJW6

During a group discussion, make sure that everyone gets a chance to speak http://bit.ly/1L0zJW6
Pay attention to the body language of the participants during the group discussion http://bit.ly/1L0zJW6

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Claudia's heart is in research. With her passion, she enjoys enthusing others about research. She enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience. Claudia works and lives in the Netherlands, where she has been helping students and beginning researchers with research for years. Through blogs, but also with e-books, e-courses, and coaching. The first blogs are now translated into English to help more students and beginning researchers.
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