Conduct research



An interview is a one-on-one directed conversation with an individual using a series of questions designed to elicit extended responses. Because this method allows you to probe for greater depth or explanation, simple yes/no questions or fixed-response questions are typically not used. Interviews allow participants to express their thoughts using their own words and organization and thus are particularly valuable for gaining insight.

Types of interviews

Types of interviews include: informal, guided and standardized. [more]

Suggested uses of interviews

Limitations of interviews

Resource requirements

Interviewing requires a high level of resources. You must be knowledgeable about writing questions unless you are using previously validated questions. You will need training or experience in appropriate interview techniques and analysis of qualitative data. In addition, you may need to hire and train staff, purchase equipment, solicit participants, arrange interviews, and transcribe tapes. Transcribing tapes typically requires four to six hours for every one hour of interview speech. [more]

Plan your interview

STEP 1. Identify the educational research problem or topic

Identify a research problem or topic from everyday life experiences, practical issues, past research, or theory.   Pay attention to the feasibility of your research problem or topic and whether it can be researched systematically.  Determine the resources needed to conduct the study, your interest level, its size and complexity, as well as the value of your results or solution for both theory and practice.

To thoroughly describe the research problem or topic, create a statement that includes the educational topic or specific problem and the justification for research.

STEP 2. Review prior research

The literature review will help you gain an understanding of the current state of knowledge pertaining to your research idea.  It will inform you of what data collection methods have been used for similar research and to help make sense of the findings from these methods once data analysis is complete.  Try to specifically explore previous research that has used interviews for research problems or topics similar to your own. 

To review prior research, the most effective and efficient way is to search educational journals through electronic computer databases such as ERIC, PsychINFO, or Google Scholar.  Searching other library databases is also recommended.

STEP 3. Determine the purpose, research question(s) or hypothesis(es)

Identifying a clear purpose helps determine how the research should be conducted, what research design you will use, and the research question(s) or hypothesis(es) of your study. 

For interviews, the purpose of your study will generally be more explorative or descriptive in nature rather than testing a hypothesis.  However, interviews can also be used to explain (and triangulate) findings obtained from other methods.  For example, if we determine from an experiment that A is better than B, interviews can be used to help us further explore why A is better than B.  

Once you have created your research question(s) or hypothesis(es), specify or match which question(s) interviews will help to answer, or which hypothesis(es) interviews will help to triangulate.

STEP 4. Consider the research implications of interview findings

Implications are the practical ways your research will assist the field of education. These are the underlying goals, the rationales for, or the importance of your study.  Implications are linked to your research problem or topic, research purpose, and research question(s) or hypothesis(es) of your study.  Therefore, once you have matched the research question(s) or hypothesis(es) that interview findings will try to answer, determine the implications of these results and how it will aid the field of education.  This will help you keep focused and maintain a clear vision when writing interview questions, conducting interviews, and interpreting results. 

STEP 5. Write questions and organize the interview

Writing good questions is crucial to achieve interview objectives and obtain valid responses. Rewrite questions until they are clear and succinct. [more]

It is also helpful to organize your topics and know the issues you want to cover in advance . [more]

Conduct pilot testing on people similar to those you want to interview to check if the questions are clear and to determine how long it takes to answer them. Revise questions before interviewing in earnest. An alternative is to conduct one or two interviews with people in your case study sample and then revise questions.

Additional information

Auerbach, C.F. & Silverstein, L.B. (2003). Qualitative Data: An Introduction to Coding and Analysis.   New York: New York University Press.

Berkowitz, S. (1997). Analyzing Qualitative Data. In J. Frechtling, L. Sharp, and Westat (Eds.), User-Friendly Handbook for Mixed Method Evaluations (Chapter 4). Retrieved June 21, 2006 from National Science Foundation, Directorate of Education and Human Resources Web site: http://www.ehr.nsf.gov/EHR/REC/pubs/NSF97-153/CHAP_4.HTM

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

Lofland, J. & Lofland, L. H. (1995). Analyzing Social Settings: A Guide to Qualitative Observation and Analysis. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Patton, M. Q. (1990). Qualitative evaluation and research methods (2nd ed.). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Posavac, E. M., & Carey, R. G. (2003). Program Evaluation: Methods and Case Studies (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall

Sewell, M. (no date) The use of qualitative interviews in evaluation. Retrieved June 21, 2006 from the University of Arizona, School of Family and Consumer Science, Institute for Children, Youth, and Families Web site: http://ag.arizona.edu/fcs/cyfernet/cyfar/Intervu5.htm

Page last updated: Sep 21 2011
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