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Interviews as a Research Method: Dig Deep into an Issue, Follow Up for Clarification, Analyze for Major Themes


Quick Hits: 5 Things to Know About Interviews

1. In-depth interviews can provide valuable qualitative data.

2. The format of an interview can vary from very structured to widely open-ended.

3. You should conduct interviews on a project until you reach a saturation point, where few new topics are brought up by respondents.

4. When analyzing interview data, a process of coding can be used to identify major themes.

5. Interview data can also be combined with other methods, like surveys and focus groups.


What are the best practices for conducting interviews?

Much of the work that researchers do involves interviewing of some sort or another.  Surveys are a type of interview, focus groups are another type of interview, and in-depth individual interviews are another type as well.  Even researchers that do not use interviewing as a main method probably conduct at least a few interviews at some point – perhaps, early on, they might have a few conversations with knowledgeable people in order to find out where they can get more information, or perhaps they would have these conversations after they have collected other data in order to better interpret their findings.  Interviews are a personal and in-depth method that allow researchers to dig deep into an issue, ask follow-up questions and have contact with the participant.  No matter what the format or purpose of your interview, there are several key things that you should keep in mind in order to get the most out of your research. 

 Let's start with an example from some work conducted by members of the Metamorphosis Project.  We were interested in the role that the Catholic Church plays in helping Latino immigrants increase feelings of belonging and civic engagement in a South Los Angeles community. 

Research Question:

What is the role of the Catholic Church in promoting belonging and civic engagement within the South LA Latino community?

We thought it would be particularly interesting to get the perspective of parish pastors, who we knew played an important role in their organization and had a wide body of knowledge about the history of their community and the lives of their parishioners. In other words, we knew they were a key part of the neighborhood storytelling network, and we wanted to investigate this process.  This piece of the research would be qualitative in nature, as we did not have a desire to quantify their thoughts, but rather wanted to compare and contrast the insights of different parish pastors in the area.  Several pastors were contacted via mail and five agreed to participate in an interview.  A research team member developed a set of interview questions and met with several different pastors, individually, for a period that ranged from 90 minutes to three hours.  In some instances, follow-up interviews were held with the pastor or other members of their church with knowledge of the issues in question.  With agreement from the participants, the interviews were audio-recorded, then transcribed verbatim – these transcripts were then analyzed for common themes and major issues, giving particular attention to the frequency with which issues were mentioned and the level of importance that interview respondents seemed to place on those issues.  The analysis was written up by the researchers, presented at professional conferences and submitted for publication to an academic journal.  The findings have helped to inform later Metamorphosis Project research by giving the research team better insight into the role of the Catholic Church in the lives of Latino immigrants in our study area.

Now it's your turn!  You should start by asking the same questions that every research project should start with:

  • What do we want to find out? These will be your research questions.
  • Who do we want to get this information from? This will be your sample.
  • How will you get this information? This will be your research method.

Constructing and conducting your interview:

  • How do we know if our questions are good questions?  
    You can find this out by pre-testing your interview.

When you are done with the data collection, you begin analyzing and reporting the results:


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