Primary Research Methods: Interviewing Techniques and Tips

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Interviewing is a valuable primary research method, and choosing from the different interviewing techniques is the first step in the process of undertaking this type of research. Interviews allow you to learn more detailed information. Whether you are interviewing one expert or gathering information from a small group of individuals, you must decide how to conduct the interview.

The five most common interview techniques include the following interview types:

  1. Face-to-face interviews
  2. Webcam interviews
  3. Telephone interviews
  4. Email interviews
  5. Instant message/chat interviews

With each interviewing technique, there are advantages and disadvantages, so choosing the right one for your primary research method is done by considering the value of each type, time or location constraints and the personal preferences of you and the people you interview.

Interviewing techniques

There are five main interviewing techniques you can use as a primary research method.

  1. Face-to-face interview—With this type of interview, you and the person you are interviewing are in the same location and are speaking directly to one another. Benefits of this type of interviewing technique include being able to see and hear social cues, to adapt your questions based on how the person you are interviewing responds and to record a copy of the interview that you can later be transcribed to use as a reference. This is often the best option if it meets the needs and availability of both you and your interview subjects.
  2. Webcam interviews—With this type of interview, you and the person you are interviewing are face-to-face via webcam technology. It offers the same benefits as a traditional face-to-face interview, and recording either the audio or the video output is a good idea in order to transcribe it and refer back to the transcript as a reference. This type of interviewing technique is also useful when distance prohibits a face-to-face interview.
  3. Phone interview—With this type of interview, you speak directly to the person you are interviewing over the phone but are not in the same physical location. There are still benefits of hearing the tone of someone’s voice, adapting questions based on responses and recording the interview. This is a good choice if you prefer speaking directly with an interview subject but constraints prevent you from meeting face-to-face or if the person you are interviewing does not want a face-to-face interview or one requiring the use of the internet.
  4. Email interviews—With this type of interview, you do not have any face-to-face or direct interaction with the person you are interviewing. You email the interview questions, and receive the responses via email. The benefit of this type of interview is that a transcript in digital form is already made once the responses are returned to you. However, you cannot watch for social cues or ask additional questions based off responses in real time. Sometimes this results in receiving less information than you could via a telephone, webcam or face-to-face interview.
  5. Chat/instant message interviews—With this type of interview, you conduct your interview over an instant messaging service, such as Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk or MSN Messenger. Since this type of interviewing technique is done in real time, you have the benefit of adapting your questions or asking additional questions based on the responses you receive. The length of responses might be shorter with this type of interview, but you can save a copy of the chat session for an already-made digital copy of the interview.

Interviewing technique tips

Whichever interviewing technique you use as a primary research method, there are certain steps during the preparation and interviewing processes that facilitate a more effective interview.

Preparation tips:

  1. Learn as much as you can about the person you are interviewing prior to the interview in order to form questions that are specific to the person.
  2. Plan ahead, and set aside an adequate amount of time that suits the interviewing technique you employ.
  3. Check your recording equipment in advance to make sure everything is working correctly, and have a backup recorder ready to go in case of technical difficulties.
  4. Prepare your questions carefully for any type of interview technique by spending the time to write good interview questions.

Interviewing tips:

  1. Start the interview with small talk to put your interview subject at ease.
  2. Respect the person you are interviewing by following their wishes if your subject chooses to not answer a specific question.
  3. Stay ready to adapt your questions if an answer to one of your questions triggers another question that pertains to your research.
  4. Keep the interview focused by redirecting the conversation with additional questions when the person you are interviewing strays too far from the focus of your interview questions.

Interviews are a powerful primary research method, and the information you learn by completing any of the interviewing techniques adds value to your research. If your interview produces information that aligns with other types of sources, for example, you can use data triangulation to strengthen your paper. Choose the interviewing technique that works the best for both you and the person you are interviewing to conduct an interview that goes well and puts both of you at ease.