No matter what and how you plan your data collection process, it will in any way be different from what you have planned, once you sit next to your interviewee!
While embarking on the first practical research project in my early career as a young researcher, namely my mini-research thesis on online learning, I came to conclusion that in reality research is far more challenging than it is described in majourity books. While reading different sources on dealing with methodology section, submitting my IRB to the Research Committee and attending thesis seminar this fall, I have understood that this part is challenging by its limits. Since much emphasis is given to ethical considerations, you must be careful about recruiting participants, taking into account their feelings, appreciating their time and ensuring confidentiality along with anonymity.
Thus, for me, recruiting my first participants was not an easy task to do as every time they agreed to participate in my study, I perceived it as an act of generosity on their part, and an act of invasion on their privacy, on my part. Therefore, I found myself a little at odds while my first encounter with interviewee.
Another obstacle impeding my interview, I think, was finding right time. The only window of opportunity that we could find to talk was after the lunch, and at the beginning, almost all my participants were in a dormant condition. So, to ensure that we were on the same page, I tried to set their minds on interview by asking general questions not related to my study, first. To my surprise, it turned to be a sure-fire way to humanize the interaction with the participant, and I am going to apply this technique in my study as well. Another lesson that I picked for myself up was to choose the most convenient time and place for the participant without any distractions and background noises.
What I liked most about this experience was talking to interesting people face to face. I also enjoyed trying to puzzle participants by asking questions that made them stop for a while and think a little to respond. The greatest compliment that my interviewee told me was, “Let me think, I have never really thought about this question before.” There is a technique that lawyers usually employ while interviewing a witness which involves seeking the reply to the question the answer of which they already know. I think that researchers should do the opposite and ask such types of questions that will spark interesting and fruitful discussion. Lawyers beware of surprises. As a young researcher – I love them as surprises mean I have something that possibly has not been identified yet.
With a common survey or yes-no answer questions typical to quantitative research design such opportunity to elicit in-depth and valuable information from the participant would not have been reached. I believe that the strongest feature of the qualitative interview-based research design is portraying participants’ innermost feelings and thoughts behind their answers, not merely getting “agree or disagree” answers.
To sum up, yes, interviews are time-consuming and transcribing them is even more laborious task compared to conducting 50 or 60 quantitative surveys in a go. But, it is worth all that hard work and time spent because you can be insured with real-life reflections full of interviwee’s feelings and thoughts. Personally I think that better method to study why things are the way they are and why people behave the way they do like interview has not been developed yet.
I am still learning, and this experience of carrying out mini-thesis was a good opportunity to hone my skills on conducting interviewes and interacting with participants on one to one basis.