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Qualitative Interviewing

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When it comes to market research, sometimes gaining the most valuable, insightful data can be done simply by asking. Hence why we have qualitative interviews.

Qualitative interviews are often used by researchers to gain an up-close look at personal stories and experiences of interview subjects that represent a certain market segment. These personal experiences and stories offered freely by subjects produce some of the richest data in market research that can be invaluable to virtually all departments of an organization.

What is Qualitative Interviewing?

To understand qualitative interviewing, it helps to first understand qualitative data. According to The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research, Qualitative research is defined as “the studied use and collection of a variety of empirical materials,” which may include “case study, personal experience, introspection, life story, interviews, artifacts, [and] cultural texts and productions.”

Essentially, qualitative research focuses more on examing the ‘why.’ A qualitative interview is a means to collect qualitative research. It’s a research methodology aimed specifically at gathering, reporting, and recording this critical type of data.

Why Are Qualitative Interviews Important?

While many research methodologies are vastly effective at gathering structured and unstructured data, interviews provide an opportunity to provide greater depth and detail than most. Sure, you can gather valuable information via survey and understand the “what,” but it’s the “why” that can pinpoint certain issues, answer pressing research questions, and paint the full picture.

Types of Qualitative Interviews

Topical Interviews

Topical interviews are structured around recalling the facts and sequences of an event. The interviewer aims to identify the “what happened?” A good researcher will direct questions in pursuit of the facts surrounding the event.

Life Histories

Qualitative interviews directed at life histories deal with a subject’s experiences or rites of passage. Frequently you’ll find researchers conducting these types of interviews to collect information about a particular lifestyle or skill set. Ultimately, these result in personal narratives and stories that produce insight into the past.

Evaluation Interviews

Evaluation interviews are relatively self-explanatory. They aim to gather information regarding the personal perception of new developments. Because evaluation interviews gather information around a personal opinion, they can create positive or negative emotional reactions that researchers should be prepared for.

Focus Groups

Focus groups involve gathering a group of people, typically strangers, that represent a specific audience sample. They’re encouraged to share their impressions, opinions, and input to help researchers identify consumer thought or potential behavior around a product or specific institution.

How to Conduct a Qualitative Interview

The various phases involved in conducting your qualitative interview will look different depending on your parameters, objectives, and constraints. However, it tends to be carried out using the same general research interview process.

1. Plan The planning phase of in-depth interviews involve identifying:

  • Key stakeholders
  • The information needed and from whom
  • Consult resources about ethical interview guidelines

2. Develop Instruments – Specifically define interview guidelines and objectives to maintain consistency and avoid skews or bias.

3. Train Interviewers – The research gathered from an in-depth interview is only as good as the researcher collecting. Train researchers to ensure they’ll successfully execute objectives.

4. Collect the data – Set up the interview and get interviewee consent. After conducting the interview based on your guidelines in step 2, summarize key data immediately following the interview.

5. Analyze data – Review the data to identify key data points, trends, key findings, or observations.

6. Disseminate findings – Record your findings from step 5 and compile them into an easily-digestible report.

Best Practices for Qualitative Interview 

Use less structured interviews for early stages.

Often, qualitative interviewing will be used in earlier stages of market research such as concept testing. In these earlier stages, it’s okay to use a less structured approach (i.e. casually asking questions to gather feedback about concepts.) Less structured interviews are ideal for when interviewees know little about the subject.

Keep interviews more structured for consistent responses.

If you have specific, critical questions or theories you’re looking to gain insight on, a more structured interview approach is your best approach for gaining rich, consistent responses. Having a more structured interview means going into it with a specific strategy, pre-determined questions, and other specifics regarding execution. Thus, responses can be compared.

Ask clarifying questions about individual experience and understanding.

Interview questions are ideal for starting meaningful conversations and gathering important information and feedback. In most cases, interview questions will open conversations with interviewees but it’s always good to have one or two follow up questions to dig a little deeper.

Ask broad, open-ended questions to gather rich feedback.

The point of qualitative interviews is to gather as much valuable information as you can relative to primary objectives. The best way to do that is by offering broad, open-ended questions and probing further where necessary. Yes or no questions aren’t effective at answering the “why” that qualitative data is meant to answer.

Avoid biasing the responses.

Structuring interview questions or reporting interview answers in a certain way can produce a bias that skews the data. You’ll want to ensure your interview questions (and your interviewers) don’t go into the qualitative interview with a certain agenda or are looking to prove a theory. Therefore, it’s best not to share your hypothesis or use emotionally-loaded language with interviewees.

Be prepared to reframe a question for better understanding.

You may receive more valuable interview data if you frame questions a certain way for better clarity and comprehension. In such cases, you can rely on the skills of the researcher or interview conductor to be ready with a more digestible presentation of certain questions.

Generate trust early on with interviewees.

As with any relationship, building rapport builds trust. Trust produces better communication and open honesty. It’s important to build this rapport and trust with interviewees early on, so they feel confident and comfortable. Remember, your research data is their personal information and perspectives. 

Record your interview using digital and traditional means.

You won’t be able to write or manually record interview data. That’s where digitally recording your qualitative interview will be critical, either via a voice recording device or video. Just be sure interviewees are informed of the recording method and have consented to it.

Key Takeaways

  • A qualitative interview is a means to collect qualitative research which is defined as “the studied use and collection of a variety of empirical materials,” which may include “case study, personal experience, introspection, life story, interviews, artifacts, [and] cultural texts and production.” They provide an opportunity to provide greater depth and detail than most research methodologies.
  • Types of qualitative interviews include topical interviews, life histories, evaluation interviews, and focus groups.
  • Most interview processes follow a specific framework: 1) Plan, 2) Develop Instruments, 3) Train Interviewers, 4) Collect The Data, 5) Analyze Data, 6) Disseminate Findings
  • Qualitative interviews have their own body of best practices that aim to optimize the experience and collect rich, insightful, non-biased data.

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