Research Methods for Information Research

2. Asking questions (and getting research answers)

2.6 Research interviews: conducting the interview

Let us assume that your victim has agreed to be interviewed. What next?

  • Choose a neutral venue if possible (a meeting room or spare office is ideal). If you have to use your respondent’s office, avoid the ‘client chair’ on the other side of the desk – if necessary move it to one end of the desk so that you are not in the usual ‘grilling position’.
  • Check that the interview is still convenient (this is especially important for telephone interviews – anything may be happening at the other end!) If there is a problem, reschedule the interview. You want a respondent who is concentrating on your interview.
  • Ask if any telephone calls can be diverted to save time (if you think this will work).
  • Make sure that the respondent knows who you are and what you are trying to find out in general terms (an introductory letter is usual but a reminder may still be needed).
  • Explain that the respondent can refuse to answer any question if they wish.
  • Explain whether the interview is confidential – a common mantra is ‘We will not be reporting back anything in a form that could lead to your replies being identifiable’. If a respondent later baulks at a question, it may be enough to remind them that the interview is confidential to get a reply.
  • If you wish to audio record, ask permission and say how you will use the recording. Position the recorder where your respondent can reach it and show how to turn it off ‘If you want to say anything off the record.’
  • Take notes even if you are recording. Recordings occasionally go wrong; in any case it takes around five hours to transcribe an hour of recorded conversation – your notes should offer short cuts. You may also need to feed back answers to people to check that you have understood what was said or to get more information.

If the interview is well organised and conducted, it is very rare for people to curtail the process, only a few respondents will cavil at particular questions and only one or two interviews turn out to be useless. Good luck!