What are the common pitfalls?


In the following paragraph we mention a number of common pitfalls typical for interviews. They are based on the work of Mortelmans (Mortelmans, 2009) and the Qualitative Research Guidelines Project (Cohen, 2008).

  • The methodology needs to be transparent. Each step of the sampling, data collection and analysis should be described in sufficient detail, this means that it must enable other researchers to replicate the same study.
  • The sample should be well constructed and described.
  • Avoid dichotomous questions which elicit a yes or a no. In an interview we are especially interested in rich descriptions and we want the interviewee to talk a lot and elaborate on the topic of the question.
  • Avoid double questions, for example: “Once you decided to have a screening, what was the next step? How did you proceed? How did it change the way you thought about potential risks?” The interviewee can not respond to all the questions at once and thus picks out one. This means the other questions are lost.
  • Avoid the expression of value judgements or your own opinion, for example: “What do you think about the endless waiting times?” The word “endless” suggests irritation.
  • Avoid to be suggestive, for instance by giving examples: “Which kind of difficulties did you encounter, like long waiting times, full waiting rooms etc?” This kind of examples provide the interviewee with a frame, which he will possibly not transcend. This way you loose what he would have answered spontaneously.
  • Avoid a reverse of roles. The interviewee should not be asking you questions. An example could be: I: “What does it mean to you to be a patient?”, R: “I don’t know. What does it mean to you?”. If this happens you can say that you are willing to answer that question after the interview, but that you can not answer it during the interview in order not to influence the answers of the interviewee. A reverse of roles can be avoided if the interviewer introduces himself in a neutral way, for example as a researcher, but not as, for example a physician or an expert in an issue related to the topic/goal of the interview, in order for the respondent not to ask you too many questions on a particular condition or issue.
  • Avoid letting the interviewee deviate to far from the topic or elaborates on irrelevant matters by returning to the question posed.
  • Avoid being too jargony, but use a familiar terminology which does not need explications or definitions.
  • The analysis should not be superficial but really in-depth. However it may not transcend the data. The data must always support the results.