She said “yes!” … to an interview

A skill summary of ethnographic interviewing techniques


As everyone hones in on, what Dr. Peake termed, the “about” and the “big question,” of our research projects, it is time to get down to the nitty gritty of actually conducting the research. Tuesday’s workshop was dedicated to exploring research methods. Of the six methods we listed — interviews, reflexivity, participant observation, literature review, oral history, and primary sources — interviewing methods was the main focus of the class.

Conducting an interview follows one of two formats: structured or unstructured. In either type of interview, the interviewer should construct a question bank. A question bank is a list of all of the questions the interviewer wants to know the answers to. In conducting a structured interview, the interviewer pulls the key questions he/she wants to cover from their question bank and arranges them in a particular order in which they will be asked. An interview that asks questions in a particular order is called a scheduled interview.

In class, we used Dr. Peake’s example of a journalist covering a confederate rally. For our question bank, we generated questions such as “what is your background,” “what is public good,” and “what do you think the confederate goal is,” among others. We were then tasked to pull questions from our larger question bank and create an interview schedule for the journalist. Of the students who shared their schedule with the class, they all seemed to follow a background info, discussion, and sum up/ larger implications sections, similar to the figure below. In fact, scheduled interviews are meant to flow like a story in that they have a discernible beginning, middle, and end.


It is important to note the potential flaws of a structured interview. First, because structured interviews follow a predetermined schedule of questions, a particular interviewee may move quickly through the planned questions, reaching the end of the interview well before the planned end time. For this reason, it would be wise to have a few backup questions prepared in order to fill up some of that empty space. Secondly, scheduled interviews have a tendency to foster patterns in interviewees’ answers because the order of the questions may lead the interviewee to feel as though a certain answer is expected. In order to fix this issue, the interviewer will need to switch out some of the questions for new ones. If the interviewer suspects that it is one question in particular that is creating the patterned answer, then they only need replace that question.


The second format for interviews is the unstructured interview. The unstructured interview still relies on a question bank to generate questions that need answering. However, the unstructured interview lacks the rigid schedule of its structured counterpart. Questions featured in an unstructured interview are not prearranged. Instead, the interview is more free-flowing and may come off like an everyday conversation. Unstructured interviews help to disarm the interviewee. The master of the unstructured interview is Pierre Bourdieu. His interview with the Leblonds in Jonquil Street reads much like the average conversation, yet he still gets the answers he wants and the Leblonds are very giving of their knowledge.

A key topic in our discussion of interviewing was getting consent to record an interview. Recording an interview ensures that none of the details in the interviewee’s answer is missed. However, one must have the consent of the interviewee to record them, otherwise it is illegal. Protocol for recording an interviewee is as follows: ask the interviewee if you can record them. If they say yes, turn on your recording device and ask them again if it is ok to record them so that you have a record of their consent. Then proceed with your interview. Following the intervierw, transcribe their answers into a document, so you make move easily through their responses. If they say no, then do not record them. Proceed with your interview as planned, being sure to take careful notes. If you are not permitted to record an interview, make sure you take plenty time following the interview to write out as much of it as you can remember.

Proper interviewing techniques are critical in conducting an effective interview that is insightful and informative, and helps the researcher locate useful and pertinent information for their study.