Why is an interview the best method

Interview entry and entry question

Whether an interview works well, i.e. whether you get the information you want, depends not least on the start of the interview. It is helpful to create a trusting atmosphere right from the start. This begins with the personal greeting during on-site interviews or with the first few sentences on the phone. The second central point in the success of interviews is the introductory question. In the following I would like to report my experiences on both aspects.

Create a trusting atmosphere

Regardless of whether a personal or a telephone interview is carried out, the central point is the trusting atmosphere. In personal interviews, it is crucial from my experience that a quiet place is chosen where there is as little interference as possible. My advice would be, if it is possible, to choose a room that you know well yourself and that you can influence yourself (e.g. to be able to provide something to drink). I personally like to invite you to my office for interviews, which is of course easy, since I am currently interviewing students for whom it is natural to come to the university. Since this is more of a special case, the advice is usually given in the literature that the person to be interviewed should choose the location, especially when it comes to biographical and therefore sensitive interviews. If this is the case and a public space is proposed, then the room / place should be viewed in advance of the interview in order to get a feel for the atmosphere (and if in doubt, change the location if it is too loud or too hectic for an interview).

In telephone interviews, the atmosphere on site is less important than the place where the person to be interviewed is located. It should be ensured that the person to be interviewed is not in the train or in the car. Sometimes this is suggested, especially for busy people (who are usually asked in expert interviews) in order to use a time window. My advice is: it is better to wait longer for an interview than to accept the “in between” offer. Because the person will not be completely on the subject or cannot speak so openly (e.g. on the train).

Interview entry

Entry into the interview is central to both on-site and telephone interviews. My experience has shown that it makes sense not to start with the topic right away, but to start with a small talk first - to feel yourself, so to speak. Banal things are suitable here, such as the weather, the problem-free journey, the beautiful interior of the café, etc. I would always make sure to talk about positive things, i.e. not to tell about the stressful day so far, because the general mood of the interview should be positive. Such positive "tuners" can also be found on the phone, if only the renewed exuberant thanks that the person is ready for the interview.

Introductory question

The introductory questions differ depending on which type of interview is used. What the opening question has in common, however, is that it influences the further course of the interview. If the beginning is bumpy, the rest of the interview will usually be bumpy as well. Therefore, especially with the introductory question, you should consider how your own question can be addressed and still a simple and open introduction is possible. In the following I would like to give two examples of introductory questions.

example 1

The first example comes from the research project "External and internal quality assurance of studies and teaching through accreditation and evaluation procedures". Here I conducted expert interviews (see also the tips for creating a guide). I give an example below that can be called a vignette. This means that it is not a real conversation that I recorded (because the recording device is not yet running when the interview is started), but a typical case of an interview that I reconstructed from several interviews. I stands for interviewer, P for interviewed person.

P: Hello… I: Hello Mrs. xx. This is Isabel Steinhardt from INCHER Kassel.P: Hello Ms. Steinhardt.I: Thank you once again for agreeing to give me an interview. That helps us a lot for the project. P: With pleasure. I: As you already know from our e-mail correspondence, we are carrying out a research project on external and internal quality assurance through accreditation and evaluation procedures. In this context, we would like to reconstruct the creation and further development process of accreditation and evaluation procedures. Do you have any further questions? P: Can you briefly explain again what your project is about? I: We would like to investigate whether ... (mostly questions were asked about the duration of the project - 4 years - and above all about independence, ie whether it is contract research - it was an independent research project.) P: That's exciting. I: Yes, we are really excited about the results. P: Mh.I: If you have no further questions, I would now like to start the interview. I would like to record the conversation so that it can be transcribed afterwards. It goes without saying that all of your information will be treated confidentially and only given in anonymised form in the evaluation. Do you agree? P: Yes, you are welcome to do that.I: Thank you very much. Then I switch on the recording device. P: Mh.I: So, the device is now switched on. I will then come to my first question. P: Yes. I: You were involved in the design of evaluation procedures (or accreditation procedures) at your university. Could you please describe the role in which you were involved?

As can be seen in this example, the actual introductory question is preceded by a long communication, which should also be well prepared so that you feel as prepared as possible. In particular, questions about the project should always be expected. In my experience, it is crucial that not too much is told about the project in order to avoid a bias in the interview.

Example 2:

The second example comes from my current project “Use of digital media and habitus of students”, in which I conduct narrative interviews. Here I have omitted the description of the "advance communication", as this is much longer than in the expert interviews. This is due to the formalities that have to be clarified due to the open science project. See the blog entry on the declaration of consent and leaflet for qualitative interviews. The opening question for the narrative interviews is:

“Now that we have completed the formalities, I would like to start the interview. As you already know, I am interested in the use of digital media. Therefore I would like to ask you to tell me your life story and how digital media appear in it. You can take as much time as you want to do this. I will not interrupt you for the time being, just listen and take notes on questions that I would like to ask afterwards. Please tell me everything you can think of. "

For the narrative interviews I conducted, I decided to focus on a clear topic (digital media) in the introductory question, but not only on the biographical section of the degree. Because I would like to investigate the research question of whether there is a connection between the habitus of the students and the use of digital media in the course of studies. For this it is necessary to look at the entire life story of the student.

The introductory question has also been modified once. Originally the decisive sentence was: “Therefore I would like to ask you to tell me your life story and how digital media appear in it, i.e. all the experiences that occur to you.” However, the first collaborative online interpretations showed that the request “all the experiences “a collision between chronological narrative and individual experiences took place, which is why the experiences no longer appear in the narrative request.

For further tips on interviews, I recommend:
Helfferich, C. (2011): The quality of qualitative data. Manual for conducting qualitative interviews. 4th edition Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften / Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden, Wiesbaden.


Author Isabel SteinhardtPosted on Categories Expert interview, collaborative online interpretation, narrative interview