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:
- Have clearly worded main and sub-questions ready.
- 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.
- Put the questions in a logical order that avoids overlap.
- Include introductory text in your interview questions. This text should state why participants are being interviewed and how long the interview will take.
- 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.
- 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...?".
- 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.
- 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'.
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.
- Group discussion: Conversation or discussion with several people about one or more topics.
- Individual interview: Structured or unstructured conversation with one person in which you go into detail about one or more topics.
- Literature Review: Research in which you use research, theories, and information already available (e.g., from a library or on the Internet) based on a problem statement.
- Mystery visitor: Research method in which you use experts who behave as customers or visitors and assess the quality of service or organization.
- Observing: Observing actual behavior and recording responses.
- Questionnaires: Recording data and opinions of groups of people using a pre-prepared questionnaire. You can have this questionnaire completed digitally or in writing by a large group of people.
- Tear tickets: A research method in which you get a large group of people to answer one question quickly. This can, for example, be done by giving the audience a piece of paper with a statement on it before a show. After the show, the audience can indicate whether they agree or disagree with the statement by making a tear in the piece of paper.
- Existing source research: conducting research using existing datasets of quantitative data that other researchers have already collected. You then use the dataset again to answer a new question.
- Informal conversations: During an informal conversation that is already taking place, you will ask a few specific questions. You record the answers afterward and repeat them to multiple respondents. The respondents are not aware that they are participating in a survey.
- Ten-minute interviews: Short interviews to find out about respondents' experiences, opinions, and motivations. It is stated in advance how long the interview will last. You can use a timer.
- Tracking: following respondents (e.g., visitors to a museum or customers in a store) through a distinct area. This can be done through the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth of their own devices, but also with a device that you give to respondents, with which you follow them.
- Logbook: A document (digital or written) in which you have visitors or participants record events and specific data.
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:
- When observing, use an observation list. With a structured observation list, you consistently record objective information, and you can quickly analyze the collected data.
- While observing, show an open and inquisitive attitude. Avoid jumping to conclusions about behaviors. Make an objective report of what you see.
- Name or record verbatim what you actually see happening, not what you think is happening.
- 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.
- Depending on the situation, make it known that you will observe people, for example, if you will follow them during the activity.
- Combine observations with a (short) interview to indicate what you have seen.
- By making many observations, you can make representative statements about your research topic or group with supporting figures.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Make sure your interlocutors feel comfortable. Provide them with a pleasant ambiance, something to drink, and a snack.
- 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.
- Make sure everyone gets a chance to speak.
- Pay attention to the body language of the participants.
- Monitor time and stick to the agreed time frames. It's disappointing when you don't get to ask all of your questions.
- 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.
- Summarize during the interview and relay your statement back to the group to make sure everybody understood the message the same way.
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
In my previous blogs, I explained how to determine the right research question and how to choose the proper research method. The next step in the research process is data collection. While gathering data, there are several things you need to keep in mind. I'll give you some tips:
- Determine your research population. It is not always necessary to interview everyone to get a representative picture. Especially in the case of large numbers, such as the voting behavior of all Dutch citizens, a representative sample is drawn.
- Keep a close eye on representativeness while collecting the data (in quantitative research). Does everyone in your sampling actually cooperate? If your subgroups are not equally represented, you can still question the missing respondents or decide to leave out a particular subgroup.
- Check whether you have enough information, especially in qualitative research. If this is not the case, you can conduct an additional interview.
- The data must be registered in a way that the data is clearly arranged and ready for analysis. Having a large pile of completed questionnaires is in itself insufficient for analysis. The best way to register results depends on the research method you have used.