Conducting my first interview – its rise and fall

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.

4 thoughts on “Conducting my first interview – its rise and fall

  1. Dear Aliya,
    I think that the challenges you faced can be applied to me also. Recruiting the participants and organizing the good quality conditions for the interview is really important and that is why difficult for the researcher. I liked your idea about introducing the interview questions by first asking some general question in order to create good atmosphere for interview.
    The question on transcribing the interview is also important. It is not easy to transcribe the interview, but the most difficult I think is connected with analyzing the answers and coding them. There is one online software for coding the transcribed interviews that is called MAXQDA (which can also help you with cross-tabulations).
    I think this will help you in future data analysis not only in this mini-research project but also in your thesis work.
    Wish you all the best !!!


    1. Dear Aliya,
      Reading your post made me reflect on my own mini-thesis data collection. I can not explain why but from the very beginning of the study in the Inqury Methods course I decided to apply the qualitative research design for my master thesis and accepted my mini-thesis task as a good way for practicing my interviewing skills.
      When interviewing I could see that it is not an easy task “to see in-depth” the participants’ perceptions, beliefs about the issue. That depends on the quality of questions I prepared. Another issue, I agree with you that semi-structured interviews are discovering, revealing sometimes the things we haven’t noticed. In this term, I wonder, to what extent the findings may build to our understanding of the issue, or may lead us in quite a different direction.


  2. Dear Aliya

    Thanks for your blog. This is quite a philosophical approach to the research and theree are some thoughts in your writing that I have never thought before. Great ideas!

    One thing that I would like to recommend: It will helpful to rather focus on the questions that you have prepared in advance and try not to debate with the participants much, otherwise it will be really hard for you to process the data coming from the interview. However, this is just a recommendation).


  3. Aliya, I agree with your commenters above: this is an extremely thoughtful and insightful post. You show a very positive attitude toward trying new techniques and improving your research skills, which I am sure will help you in your journey to complete your thesis. You are right that we are all still learning these skills and so it is important to keep an open mind and learn from our mistakes.

    Your writing is in-depth and well-organized, and largely free of grammatical mistakes. As a recommendation, I would keep working to eliminate wordy and convoluted sentences. Take this one, for example:

    “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.” Try instead to give an active voice, condensed version of this idea:

    “Quantitative research studies commonly use “yes-no” surveys, which are unable to elicit valuable in-depth information from the participant”. 50% fewer words. Direct and active sentence and verb structure.



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