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Evaluate programs

Conducting interviews

Prior to the interview

  1. Schedule ample time for the interview.
  2. Choose a quiet and private setting so you can hear and record what is being said and the interviewee does not have to worry about being overheard.
  3. Give participants a reminder call or email a day or two before the interview.
  4. It is good practice to record and then transcribe interviews.

    Compared to taking notes, taping enables you to focus more fully on the interview and opportunities to ask follow-up questions. Be sure, however, to ask for a respondent's permission to tape and be prepared to take detailed notes if necessary. Obtain a good tape recorder and microphone and test the equipment immediately before each interview.
  5. Dressing appropriately for the setting will improve rapport.

    For example, it would be acceptable to wear blue jeans when interviewing students but better to wear more professional attire when interviewing program managers or administrators.

During and after the interview

  1. Review the interview purpose, how the results will be used, and the terms of confidentiality or anonymity.
  2. To increase rapport, balance the conversation.

    Simply asking a series of questions without sharing any reaction can make an interviewee uncomfortable. Instead, provide short, accepting, and friendly reactions to responses, such as verbal affirmations ("OK," "I understand") or affirmative body language (head nodding, smiling). However, avoid lengthy verbal reactions that may create bias or cause the interview to lose focus.  
  3. Develop the qualities of a skilled interviewer, as outlined by Kvale (1996):
    1. Knowledgeable: become thoroughly familiar with the focus of the interview.
    2. Structuring: explain the purpose for the interview; ask whether interviewee has questions.
    3. Clear: ask simple, easy, short questions without using jargon.
    4. Gentle: allow people to finish; give them time to think; tolerate pauses.
    5. Sensitive: listen attentively to what is said and how it is said; be empathic.
    6. Open and flexible: respond to what is important to the interviewee.
    7. Steering: know what you want to find out.
    8. Critical: be prepared to politely challenge what is said. For example, you might question inconsistencies in interviewees' replies.
    9. Remembering and integrating: relate what is said to what has previously been said.
    10. Interpreting: clarify and extend meanings of interviewees' statements without changing their meaning.
  4. Pay attention to non-verbal behavior, especially signs the interviewee is comfortable or uncomfortable.

    Non-verbal behavior helps you decide when to pursue more information, when to back off, when to offer reassurance, and when to change topics.
  5. Be prepared to ask follow-up questions, such as "Could you tell me some more about that?" or, "What do you mean by that?" while allowing the interviewee ample time to think about and respond to questions.

    Silence can encourage an interviewee to expand on an answer. Extended silences, however, can become awkward, particularly with someone you are meeting for the first time. Nonverbal behaviors will help you judge whether a respondent is uncomfortable or just thinking about an answer.
  6. Ask interpretive questions when needed.

    When an interviewee rambles or does not state a consistent or clear point of view, ask an interpretive question to clarify a response (For example, "Do you mean that your priorities have shifted from developing programs to building support for programs?").

    At the end of the interview, summarize important points to ensure you have made the correct interpretation and to allow the respondent to elaborate. Always thank respondents for their participation and ask them if they have any questions for you.
  7. Write notes about how you thought the interview went; other feelings about the interview; your impressions of the interviewee; the date, time, and place of the interview; your impression of the setting; and any ideas the interview triggered.

Additional information

Kvale, S. (1996). Inter Views: An introduction to qualitative research interviewing. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Page last updated: Sep 21 2011
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