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Analyzing Qualitative Data
December 9, 2013
Many qualitative researchers spend a lot of time interviewing participants, so here are some quick tips to make interviews go as smooth as possible: before, during and after!
1. Let your participants choose the location
If you want your interviewees to be comfortable in sharing sometimes personal or sensitive information, make sure they can do it in a comfortable location. For some people, this might be their own house, or a neutral territory like a local cafe. Giving them the choice can help build trust, and gives the right impression: that you are accomodating them. However, make sure you make it clear that you need a relatively quiet location free from interruptions: a pub that plays loud music will not only stop you hearing each other, but usually makes recordings unusable!
2. Remember that they are helping you
Be polite and curtious, and be grateful to them for sharing their time and experiences. This always gets interviews off on the right foot. Also, try and think about participants motivations for taking part. Do they want the research to help others? Are they looking for a theraputic discussion? Do they just like a chat? Understanding this will help you guide the interview, and make sure you meet their expectations.
3. A conversation, not an interregation!
Interviews work best when they are a friendly dialogue: don't be afraid to start with some small talk, even when the tape is running. It turns a weird situation into a much more normal human experience, and starting with some easy 'starter for 10' questions helps people open up. Even a chatty "How did you hear about the project?" can gives you useful information.
4. Memorise the topic guide, but keep it to hand
Knowing all the questions in the topic guide can really help, so group them thematically, and memorise them as much as you can. It will really help the flow of information if you can segue seamlessly from one question to another relevant one. However, it's always useful to keep a print-out in front of you, not just for if you forget something, but also to make you seem more human, with a specific role. Joking about remembering all the questions is a great icebreaker, and it gives you something to look at other than the participant, to stop the session turning into a staring match!
5. Use open body language and encouraging cues
Face the participant in a friendly way, and nod or look sympathetic at the right times. Sometimes it's tempting for the interviewer to keep quiet during the responses, and not put in any normal encouraging noises like "Yeah", "Hmm" or "Right" knowing how odd these read in a transcript. But these are important cues that people use to know when to keep talking, so if you are going to drop them, make sure you make positive eye contact, and nod at the right times instead!
6. Write notes, even if you don't use them
It always helps me to scribble down some one-word notes on the topic guide when you are doing an interview: first of all it helps focus my thoughts, and remind me about interesting things that the participant mentioned that I want to go back to. But it also helps show you are listening, and makes sure if the recording goes wrong, there is something to fall back on.
7. Write-up the interivew as soon as you finish
Just take 15 minutes after each interview to reflect: the main points that came up, how open the respondent was, any context or distractions that might have impared the flow. This helps you think about things to do better in the next interview, and will help you later to remember each interview.
8. Return to difficult issues
If a particular topic is clearly a difficult question (either emotionally, or just because someone can't remember) don't be afraid to leave the topic and come back to it later, asking in a different way. It can really help recall to have a break talking about something easier, and then approach the issue sideways later on.
9. Ask stupid questions
Don't assume you know anything. In these kinds of interviews, it's usually not about getting the right answer, but getting the respondent's view or opinion. Asking 'What do you mean by family?' is really useful if you discover someone has adopted children, step-sisters and a beloved family dog that all share the house. Don't make any assumptions, let people tell you what they mean. Even if you have to ask something that makes you sound ignorant on a specialist subject, you could discover that someone didn't know the difference between their chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
10. Say thank you
And follow up: send a nice card after the interview, don't be like a date they never hear from again! Also, try and make sure they get a summary of the findings of the study they took part in. It's not just about being nice, but to make sure people have a good experience as a research subject, and will want to be involved in the next project that comes along, which might be yours or mine!
I hope these tips have been hopeful, don't forget Qurikos makes your transcribed interviews easy to analyse, as well as a visual and engaging process. Find out more and download a free trial from our website. Our blog is updated with articles like this every week, and you can hear about it first by following our Twitter feed @quirkossoftware.