How to Create an Interview Guide

How to Create an Interview Guide

If your research involves gathering data by interviewing people, you will probably need to create an interview guide. An interview guide contains a list of questions you want to cover during your interview(s). It is meant to keep you on track and ensures that you cover all the topics needed to answer your research question(s).

Interview guides are very common in semi-structured interviews. They need to be designed in a way that gives your interviewees  enough space to tell their stories and provide you with meaningful data. Therefore, you should include open-ended questions that allow for your conversation to flow freely. Free flowing conversation can help you uncover topics you were not aware of previously (without wandering off your subject matter). An interview guide acts as an unobtrusive road map you can turn to during the interview to yourself back on course. A good interview guide provides you with prompts and a general direction.

As your research progresses, you can update your interview guide to include new questions. Often, an initial interview guide can be used for the first few interviews, after which a few tweaks can be made to allow you (the researcher) to dive deeper into the topic by using a revised guide. A revised guide should not be perceived as a stumbling block. On the contrary, creating a revised interview guide can be a sign of a good research process — it shows you are letting the research material guide you (and not vice versa).

Here are some useful strategies when you create an interview guide:

  • Think about the research question of your study and identify which areas need to explored to answer your question. Your interview questions are not the same as your research question, but should help answer it. (If you have troubles developing your research question, you can read this post.)
  • Consider how much time you can spend with each interviewee and adjust the number of questions accordingly. Be realistic about how much can be covered in 60 to 90 minutes (the usual length of an interview). Field test your guide on test/volunteer subjects to make sure your timing assumptions are accurate before actually collecting data.
  • Avoid asking questions that can be answered in a few words (also known as closed-ended questions). The point of a qualitative interview is to collect a rich amount of data. You need to encourage your participants to open up and talk at length, sharing their personal expertise with you.
  • Make your questions easy to understand. Ask only one question at a time (e.g. avoid compound questions).
  • Think about the language you use so that it fits that particular respondent (for instance, professional versus informal language).
  • Allow enough time for interviewees to be able to elaborate on certain answers and give you examples. Develop probes that can be used to elicit more detail (when needed).
  • Usually, “how” questions are the preferred option, as these type of questions give an opportunity for a longer response. For example, “Can you tell me how you started working with the American Cancer Society?”

Structure of an Interview Guide

In qualitative research, a lot can depend on the ability of the researcher to enter the field and build rapport with their respondents. When people feel at ease with you, they are more likely to share information honestly and freely. The idea is to build trust and rapport as quickly as possible. Therefore, it can be helpful if you structure your interview so it is set up to build trust quickly. For example, it is usually a good idea to begin the conversation with a warm-up question. Start by asking a simple question that your participants can easily answer and that helps them feel more relaxed. This first question doesn’t necessarily need to be related to your overall topic.

Create an interview guide so the structure of your interview follows a logical order and flows naturally. Don’t jump from one topic to another. Also, if you feel that enough time has been spent answering a certain question, you can use gentle probes to change the subject (e.g. “Let’s move on to another topic now.”).

Save the most difficult questions for the end of the interview. It is more likely people will be willing to share their private experience after they have had some time to become more comfortable with you.

Finish with a question that can provide some closure to the interview. It is important that at the end of your interview, your respondent(s) feel positive and pleased they have participated in your research.