An interview guide should be adapted to the language and vocabulary of the participant(s) and is generally built out of three components:
- A reminder of the goal of the research.
- The main topics or questions, the interviewer wants to address during the interview.
- Relaunching questions. They are an essential part of the interview. It may happen that the interviewee does not give an answer to the question or gives an unexpected answer. In that case the interviewer can probe in order to delve deeper. In case a respondent does mention an aspect you thought of in advance or you are particularly interested in, you can repose the question focused on that specific issue. For example the initial question could be: “Which difficulties you experienced after your surgery?”. The respondent mentions all kinds of worries and inconveniences, but you are particularly interested in the organization of after care. Hence you could ask: “How did you experience the organization of after care?”.
How to construct a topic list or semi-structured questionnaire?
A topic list covers all the topics the interviewer should ask during the interview. It enables the interviewer to guide the interview while allowing the discussion to flow naturally. The sequence of topics generally moves from the general to the specific. The sequencing of topics can be introduced in a flexible way, and within a general framework of topics, the focus of the discussion can be reset. A topic list is also used in preparation of the semi-structured questionnaire
In a questionnaire semi-structured questions are formulated in speaking language and are posed as such during the interview. The same questions with the same formulation, sometimes in the same sequence, are posed in each interview. The disadvantage however is that it can threaten the natural flow of the conversation.
Both for the topic list and the semi-structured questionnaire, questions/topics should evidently be selected in function of the research objectives. An open ended-formulation of the questions is important in order to enable the interviewee to talk freely without predispositions of the interviewer influencing the narrative. For example, rather than asking “Did you worry about the surgery?”, one could ask “How did you feel about the surgery?”.
A topic list or questionnaire may be adapted or improved in the course of the research, in line with the iterative nature of QRM. The more interviews you have done, the more you know and the more specific or detailed your questions can be (Mortelmans, 2009). However, continuity should be guarded. The topics of the first interview should also be represented in the following interviews, although the latter can also contain much more detailed questions.
For an example of a topic list and a semi-structured questionnaire, see Appendix 6 and Appendix 7 respectively.
What types of questions can be posed?[a]
The interview starts with an easy opening question which is mostly to set the interviewee at ease, break the ice and get to know each other. With this question the researcher does not expect to get a lot of useful information, the main function is to start up the conversation.
After that the conversation is started with a first general and easy to answer question addressing the content of the research. It can be an attitude question to enable the respondents to roll into the conversation. An example could be: “If you hear breast cancer screening, what are your first thoughts?”.
Next, transition questions involve the respondents in the research subject, for example through asking questions about personal experiences or specific behavior regarding the topic. Attitudinal questions are more difficult to answer and should therefore be addressed later in the interview. An example is “How did you experience your eye surgery?”.
Subsequently the key questions are addressed. These questions are the reason why the interview is done. The interviewer can make clear that the interviewee can take some time to answer these questions. An interview can count up to five key questions each taking up to fifteen minutes to answer them.
Finally, the interview is terminated by means of a concluding question and thanking the interviewee for his participation. Three types of concluding questions can be distinguished:
Summary questions provide the interviewee with a summary of what he has told the interviewer, Final questions can address elements that have not been mentioned during the interview, for example: “Do you want to add something to this interview?”. Make sure you allow enough time for the concluding questions.
It is useful to conduct a pilot (focus group) interview in order to test, assess and validate the format and the appropriateness of the topic guide or questionnaire.