Research Methods for Information Research

2. Asking questions (and getting research answers)

2.3 Research interviews: designing an interview schedule

Some of the ground-rules for interview schedule design are:

  • Ease the respondent into the interview. Starting with a question about someone’s work responsibilities will usually get the respondent talking comfortably – always assuming that this information is relevant! Don’t ask for personal information early in an interview.
  • Adopt a logical structure by grouping questions into sections and proceeding from the general to the specific.
  • Communicate this structure to the respondents so that they know where the conversation is going. Interviewers should offer a brief introductory outline of the areas to be covered; this can be reinforced as each new section is reached (e.g. “Now I’m going to ask you about how you use information at work”).
  • Vary the bill of fare. You can combine closed questions (such as “Do you ever go to the company information centre?”) and open questions (e.g. “What kinds of use do you make of that service?”). The respondents’ task can be further varied by, for instance, asking them to select replies and tick boxes on response cards or to choose one of a set of descriptive vignettes that matches their own information-related behaviour; or again you may want to show people an information publication and ask them for comments.
  • Make sure that the questions are clear and in spoken English, rather than the more formal written version – which sounds stilted when it is read. (Which form is being used here?) Try to avoid using negatives in questions (they can be confusing); and any jargon should be deliberately chosen to reflect respondents’ usage. Library and information jargon should be avoided (asking lecturers about serials has been known to elicit strange responses!)