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6 tips for doing a good research interview

By: Kristina Hansen
Date: April, 2015
File under: Articles

Need to do a research interview with some of your users? Here we give you some hands-on tips on how to conduct a good interview.

1. Do research before your interview, but not too much

If you know too much about the topic you are enquiring about, you might forget to ask general questions, and may also be less open to exploring “unknown” areas.

Having said that, do put together a discussion guide that includes all the topics and issues you want to cover in the interview. Do make sure you limit the amount of topics just to allow for room to explore during the interview, acknowledging that interviewees might share unexpected but useful insights with you.

2. Make the interviewee feel at ease

Always give an introduction to the research you are doing and what you are hoping to cover in the interview. Ask general questions at the beginning of the interview in order to learn a bit more about your interviewee and to establish a certain level of trust. See the interview as a conversation; be friendly, casual and listen.

3. Ask questions at the right level

Make sure to tailor your questions according to whom you are talking to. Are you talking to a managing director or a staff member, an expert or a newcomer?

Do background research about who it is you will be interviewing. Do a Google search on them before the interview; the more you know about them before the interview, the easier it will be for you to ask the right questions.

If you are conducting user research on the behalf of an organisation, get internal stakeholders to share what they already know about the users you’ll be interviewing.

4. Listen attentively

Listening is an important skill and it can be hard to practise. Make your participant think they are interesting to listen to. Repeat or recap what they are saying as doing this shows that you have been listening. Allow the interviewee to steer the conversation and let them go in unexpected directions – you might get some really useful data out of doing so.

5. Clarify, clarify AND clarify

Listen for cues. Sometimes people give you important cues and when they do, make sure you clarify.
Use your discussion guide as a guide and don’t be afraid to deviate from the questions you have prepared. If the interviewee brings up a certain topic or issue without you asking, explore it and let them share their thoughts so the conversation flows naturally.

6. Write down 3-4 key things

Write down the three to four most memorable things and/or favourite moments after the interview. There is usually a reason why those moments stood out to you. If you can, you should take notes during the actual interview, but it can be very useful to summarise your key findings right after the interview while they are still fresh in your mind.
There are a whole lot of other interview techniques that are really useful to know about and experts have written many books about the art of conducting interviews.

If you want to explore the subject in more detail, have a read of Steinar Kvale’s Interviews: Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing. His book takes a theoretical and practical approach to interviewing. We can also recommend Steve Portigal’s Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights.

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