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'.

Sending out a questionnaire is an excellent method to question many people in the same way. If you can obtain a good response rate, you’ll get a representative picture of your research group. But how do you ensure an adequate response?

  1. Carefully select your research group. Don't just write to anyone or randomly choose a cross-section of the phone book, but rather look at who you want to fill out your questionnaire. How old are they? A particular occupation? Hobbies? If your research group is interested in your topic, they are more likely to (fully) complete your questionnaire.
  2. Explore how you best reach your research group. Can you email or survey them at a venue (after visiting a museum)? Or through postal services, in case they don't have internet access. You can also offer multiple options, so respondents can choose how to fill out the questionnaire.
  3. Make it as easy as possible for your respondents. If you conduct a digital questionnaire, make sure there is a working link so that respondents can click through immediately. If logging in with a password is not necessary, e.g., to link data, ensure the link is working. If you use written questionnaires, make sure there is a reply envelope and a reply number. If you are on location with written questionnaires, make sure you have suitable writing materials and a table (and chair).
  4. Keep the questionnaire as short as possible. Only ask what is necessary. Nobody likes to fill in a lengthy questionnaire. Ask relevant questions only and refer to another question "if necessary, fill out the next question; if not, go on to question, e.g., 10." Digitally show how long it will take to complete the questionnaire.
  5. Please make sure the questions are lucid, and it is clear to the respondent what is expected of them; also, when redirecting them to other questions. you can easily set this up Digitally (if question 1 is yes, continue to question 5), but make sure it is clear on paper as well.
  6. Only make questions mandatory if they are essential. Mandatory questions are more likely to cause people to drop out.
  7. Make it clear why it is essential that they complete the questionnaire. Pay special attention to the importance of the respondents. With this information, we can...'
  8. Thank your respondents, if possible, with a small gift. Your respondents will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Sending out a questionnaire is an excellent method to question many people in the same way. If you can obtain a good response rate, you’ll get a representative picture of your research group. But how do you ensure an adequate response?

  1. Carefully select your research group. Don't just write to anyone or randomly choose a cross-section of the phone book, but rather look at who you want to fill out your questionnaire. How old are they? A particular occupation? Hobbies? If your research group is interested in your topic, they are more likely to (fully) complete your questionnaire.
  2. Explore how you best reach your research group. Can you email or survey them at a venue (after visiting a museum)? Or through postal services, in case they don't have internet access. You can also offer multiple options, so respondents can choose how to fill out the questionnaire.
  3. Make it as easy as possible for your respondents. If you conduct a digital questionnaire, make sure there is a working link so that respondents can click through immediately. If logging in with a password is not necessary, e.g., to link data, ensure the link is working. If you use written questionnaires, make sure there is a reply envelope and a reply number. If you are on location with written questionnaires, make sure you have suitable writing materials and a table (and chair).
  4. Keep the questionnaire as short as possible. Only ask what is necessary. Nobody likes to fill in a lengthy questionnaire. Ask relevant questions only and refer to another question "if necessary, fill out the next question; if not, go on to question, e.g., 10." Digitally show how long it will take to complete the questionnaire.
  5. Please make sure the questions are lucid, and it is clear to the respondent what is expected of them; also, when redirecting them to other questions. you can easily set this up Digitally (if question 1 is yes, continue to question 5), but make sure it is clear on paper as well.
  6. Only make questions mandatory if they are essential. Mandatory questions are more likely to cause people to drop out.
  7. Make it clear why it is essential that they complete the questionnaire. Pay special attention to the importance of the respondents. With this information, we can...'
  8. Thank your respondents, if possible, with a small gift. Your respondents will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

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.

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- #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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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.

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.

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If you are going to conduct research, it is essential to formulate the right research question. The purpose of the research and the research question indicates what the setup of the research will contain. A good research question ensures that you have the correct information to actually work at the end of the research. There are five steps to formulating the right research question:

Step 1: Why research?

The first step in deciding on a proper research question is to answer the question, "why are you going to research, evaluate, or monitor? Answering these questions will give you an idea of the type of research question you will ask, what information you need, and which answers you need. Do you want to improve a project, or do you want to justify your project? With both goals, you're going to be evaluating, but the answers you wish to obtain afterward are very different—improvements versus demonstrated effects.

Step 2: What information do you need?

Based on your goal (Step 1), you can determine what information you need to meet this goal. What do you need to know to meet your goal? Do you want to improve goal attainment? If so, you need information in the form of points for improvement (what is going well and what could be improved?) Is the goal to legitimize your project for funders? Then you need information in the form of the impact of the project. Do you want better alignment with the target group, and is this the goal of your research? Then you need information in the form of characteristics, wishes, and needs of the target group. Always ask yourself the question: what am I going to do with this information? This will enable you to set priorities.

Step 3: Formulating a research question

Based on your research goal and the accurate description of your information needs, you can formulate your research questions. Formulate these questions as precisely as possible. When preparing the questions, remember that you or a researcher will soon be answering them. So will you achieve your research goal, and can you take follow-up action if you get answers to these questions?

Step 4: Preconditions

Various preconditions can be linked to the research. It is essential to gain insight into this in the phase of formulating the research question. Preconditions you need to consider include time, budget, availability of specific data, and so on.

Step 5: What will the final result look like?

Research results can be delivered in a variety of forms. <LINK to blog>Digitally, physically, a report, a fact sheet, a book, a video, an article, a discussion session, a presentation, a website, a PowerPoint presentation, an infographic, an animation, a magazine, a flyer, to name a few. And what is communicated therein? Impacts, arguments, or areas for improvement. Make a representation of what you would like to get at the end of the research and whether you can use it to take your intended action, convince others, improve policies or activities or make a decision.

A questionnaire is used as a measuring tool to answer your research questions. It is essential that you can use the results of the questionnaire. The quality of the questionnaire determines the quality of the data collected. It is therefore important to carefully formulate the survey questions. Here are a few tips and rules of thumb to help you formulate well-structured questions:

  1. Keep the questions simple. Don't use complex language, and consider your audience in your choice of words. For example, "What do you prefer to do in your free time?" is better than "How do you prefer to relax?
  2. Provide an unambiguous interpretation. 'I am satisfied with the quality of the exhibition' is an example of how not to do it. What is quality? The type of artwork, interactive elements, crowds, venue, the light?
  3. Formulate the question as precisely as possible. Refer to place and time and mention numbers. Try to delineate questions such as "Have you recently..." to a specific period, for example, "Have you in the past six months...".
  4. Avoid vague wording and avoid terms like ‘often’ and ‘sometimes’, also in the answer categories. Everyone interprets often and sometimes differently, so it is better to ask for a specific number of times.
  5. Avoid duplicate questions. No 'and' or 'or' in the questions. A question like "What did you think of the performance and the actors?" cannot be answered with one answer if the audience thought the performance was a little off, but the actors were excellent.
  6. Do not formulate (double) denials in the question. A negation in the question is confusing. For example, 'I am not dissatisfied with what I have seen' or 'I don't like to visit a museum.'
  7. Ask short questions.
  8. Be careful with examples in the question and suggestive questions. Chances are that the respondent may only think of these examples. This can happen with a question like 'How often do you undertake a cultural activity such as a visit to a museum or a play.' The respondent will be inclined to think that a visit to a festival or a dance performance is not part of the equation.
  9. Make sure the question measures up: The question should answer the research question. If you want to know if an exhibition inspired someone, do not ask how long they stayed. It is possible that the length of stay was longer or shorter because the respondent had to wait or had to leave earlier and had no choice.
  10. The answer categories to the questions should be mutually exclusive, and it should be clear to the respondents which answer to tick/indicate.
  11. Provide the same direction in the response order for scale questions. If at one point you are asked to rate something on a scale from totally disagree to totally agree (increasingly positive) and a few questions later on a scale from very satisfied to very dissatisfied (increasingly negative), there is a chance that people will fill this out incorrectly.
  12. For scale questions, try to keep the scale the same for each question. So do not use a scale of 1 to 5 for one question and a scale of 1 to 7 for another. This also makes it easier to analyze.
  13. See which scale fits best. A rating scale of 1 to 10 offers a lot of variation but is also more challenging to interpret (for some, a 10 is good, others think a 10 is perfect and therefore don't give it easily). A 2 (good/bad) or 3-point scale (good, average, bad) offers minimal variation and makes it harder to answer a question if it is an opinion (opinions are typically nuanced). An even scale causes a respondent to have to choose; with an odd scale, you offer the opportunity to sit safely in the middle.
  14. Also, provide the option of a reasoned non-answer, for instance, by creating an answer option like not applicable or don't know/no opinion.

Questionnaires can be distributed digitally, but in certain situations, you make it easier for your respondents when they can fill it out on the spot on paper. Next, the data needs to be entered. Here are seven tips:

  1. Use a program that you know to fit your needs. For example, in excel, you can easily organize data and sort it in different ways. For questionnaires, this may be sufficient. If you need to make more complicated calculations, SPSS may be a solution.
  2. Create an encoding for processing questionnaires (e.g., no = 0 yes = 1). This ensures that answers are understood without misinterpretation, while the input is less prone to typing errors. Encoding also makes it easier to calculate the data collected (in this example, an average of 0.75 means 75% of the respondents said yes).
  3. Create a notable encoding for skipped questions, e.g., -1. With that, you will know it was not an error on the participant's part, and unique or remarkable scores can easily be left out of the formula.
  4. Give each questionnaire/respondent a unique number. This practice allows you to anonymize the data, yet you can still find the corresponding questionnaire.
  5. Provide clear instructions for the data entry crew so that everyone works according to the same protocol. Whenever possible, have the data entry done by one person; this ensures that it will always be done in the same way. Note: If, however, the input operator has to evaluate data, then multiple people should be tasked with this.
  6. Start the data entering timely to ensure a manageable process. Processing it in small segments will help you concentrate better (and fewer mistakes will be made).
  7. Perform random checks. Correct accordingly. If errors keep occurring in the same place, take action on them. Realize that to err is human.
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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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