Interviews are formal or semiformal conversations between an interviewer and one or more participants. A question and answer format is used, guided by a set of pre-established questions.

I. Suggested Uses of Interviews:

  • To obtain information from individuals about particular situations, problems, or topics
  • To elicit responses to specific questions (structured interview) or to explore broad issues in a non-directive, non-threatening manner (semi-structured interview, with open-ended questions)
  • To allow participants to provide rich, contextual descriptions of events
  • To bring to the surface the deeper factors that are at play in complex situations
  • To build rapport with and buy in from participants
  • When flexibility or non-verbal information is important
  • When it is important for follow-up or clarifying questions

II. Limitations of Interviews:

  • Varying quality of the data depending on the knowledge and experience of the respondent
  • The time to conduct, transcribe, and analyze
  • Cost
  • Scheduling difficulties
  • Requires a skilled interviewer
  • Difficulty quantifying data collected from unstructured interviews
  • Difficulty generalizing interview data, because limited numbers are typically interviewed.
  • Respondents cannot remain anonymous, which may influence their answers
  • Interruptions can occur
  • Responses may be influenced by the interviewer

III. Interview Development and Administration:

  • Determine goals for the interview and how you will use the results.
  • Decide who should be interviewed. Usually, you will interview people who have a history with a particular phenomenon you are interested in, someone who is currently involved in it, and someone who has time to participate.
  • Determine the topics that will be addressed and the order in which they will be addressed. Generally, it is suggested that interviews begin with the most general topic and then become progressively more specific.
  • Develop interview questions (and possible follow-up prompts).
  • Use open questions: questions that allow for the interviewee to elaborate on responses, as they cannot be answered with a one-word response. These questions may begin with stems such as how, in what ways, tell me (e.g., In what ways is this school different than other schools you have attended? How do you use the data from your classroom assessments?)
  • Avoid closed questions: questions that have a clear and apparent focus and require an explicit answer These questions are typically yes/no or begin with the stems with whom, when, where, which, does/did (e.g., What grade are you in? Where did you go to school before coming here?)
  • Avoid using confusing wording, double negatives, leading phrasing, and acronyms or jargon in your questions.
  • Put your questions into an interview guide. It should include everything you need to conduct the interview.
  • Practice interviewing someone who is similar to the intended audience, using your interview guide. Get feedback based on the practice interview. Pay attention to both whether specific questions or wording were effective and how the logistics of the interview worked. Do you need to reorder questions or use smoother transitions? Determine whether you will record the interview or take notes.
  • Schedule and conduct the interviews. You may need to get permission from parents and/or the school district before you can conduct your interviews.
  • After the interview, make sure that you have a clear and clean set of notes. If possible, transcribe the recordings (i.e., create a written record of everything that was said). Using the complete notes or transcription, read them carefully several times. Identify five to ten big themes that many of the comments fit under. Summarize what was said under each major theme. Then identify two to three comments that illustrate an important point under each theme. These quotations are typically kept anonymous.
  • Create a report in which a header is used for each theme, a summary of the theme is offered, and the illustrative quotations follow. Provide the report to people interested in the topic. When possible, discuss the meaning of the report as well as any implications for practice.

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