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Writing interview questions

Ask questions that encourage description and depth

One of the advantages of an interview over a written survey is the opportunity to achieve greater depth of understanding. Ask questions that encourage respondents to explain and elaborate; avoid using "yes/no" questions. Particularly effective are questions that begin with "how." Beware of "why" questions at the beginning of interviews (for example, "Why did you decide to continue with this project?") because they may put respondents on the defensive, leading them to justify their actions or opinions.

Example

Discourages elaboration: "Did you register for the program to increase your knowledge in the field?"

Encourages elaboration: "Please tell me how you got interested in this program."

Use simple, clear language

Use language respondents understand to avoid producing biased data. Respondents should know exactly what you are asking. A common mistake is to assume that respondents will have the same understanding of a question that you do. Avoid asking questions that have several possible meanings or questions that are so long that they are difficult to follow.

Avoid universal words

Because respondents may avoid choosing extremes, do not use universal words such as "all," "always," "none," and "never."

Avoid biased questions

Ask questions that do not lead respondents to answer a particular way.

Example

Biased: "This semester you were introduced to state-of-the-art technology through the FAST Tex Program. What is your opinion of the program?"

Better: "What is your opinion of the FAST Tex program?"

Similarly, avoid words such as "only," "just," and "merely," which may bias responses.

One concept per question

Questions addressing more than one concept may confuse participants, leading them to answer only one part of the question or to answer neither part. The solution is to separate two ideas into two questions.

Example

Double-barreled: "How did using Blackboard and the Classroom Performance System help you learn the material in this course?"

Better: "How did using Blackboard help you learn the material in this course?"
"How did using the Classroom Performance System help you learn the material in this course?"

Choose relevant subjects

If participants lack knowledge about a subject, they may provide responses that are of little use. For example, if you were to ask students to evaluate government spending in London, they may provide opinions despite having little knowledge about this subject.

Consider the capability of respondents

Participants may not be able to accurately answer certain questions. For example, they may not recall details about the format of tests from a class they took two years ago.

Page last updated: Sep 21 2011
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