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Developing an interview guide

July 2, 2009

For the purpose of conducting qualitative research on scientific advisory boards at San Diego, I recently developed an interview guide. How did I do it?

The task, obviously, is to come up with the questions. So how did I do it? Well, I began by jotting down things that are puzzling to me, at various moments over a pretty long period of time. Sometimes, these questions occur at odd moments, while I’m driving, eating or taking a shower. Sometimes, the questions pop up when I was reading or listening to conversations. Over time, the puzzles accumulate and I began to sort the puzzles and questions into clusters, which I refined over time into a much more coherent framework that is understandable not just to me but also to other researchers. And I plan to gradually modify the questions into “versions” that take the perspective of the interviewees. As a bonus, extended versions can include customized probes.

In the interview guide, I included an introduction that will prompt me to (i) explain the purpose and nature of the study, (ii) give assurance that the data will be kept highly confidential and the interviewee will remain anonymous in any written reports, and (iii) indicate that there are no right or wrong answers, (iv) let the interviewee know that he or she should feel free to interrupt, seek clarification or even criticize a line of questioning, and (v) tell the interviewee something about myself with regard to background, training and research interest, and finally, (vi) seek the interviewee’s permission to record the interview.

Of course, it is important to keep the format flexible since every interviewee is different. This means that it may be useful to customize each interview guide, responding to ad-hoc responses. Not only is this better for eliciting responses from the interviewees, each interview guide will also contain unique information and serve as a memory device at the time of writing up the interview.

Along this line of reasoning, I am currently considering adding a factsheet to each customized interview guide. The factsheet should contain a code number rather than the interviewee’s name, date of interview and place of interview. If it is necessary to add additional information about the interviewee, perhaps I will create a post-interview comment sheet. This post-interview comment sheet can contain information such as the description of the social setting, any particular methodological difficulties that were encountered, insights and reflections gained during or after the interview. If the interviewee furnishes more information some time later after the interview, I may also add the extra-interview observation to the post-interview comment sheet.

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