Conducting a Better Participant Interview

For better or worse, the interview is where we receive a large percentage of your information on subjects or groups. The ability to conduct a successful and insightful interview will determine the depth of information you will be able to collect and the and the validity of that information. KEEP IN MIND:

  • Reading off a line of questions will create a barrier between the researcher and the subject as well as produce a stale wooden rapport.
  • Ask open-ended questions rather than simple yes/no queries. Don’t lead the subject.
  • Questions should be clear and phrased in contextually intelligible and appropriate language.
  • It’s an interview, not an interrogation. Relax, forget about getting “the” answer an establish rapport.
  • Get to know the subject(s). Ask them questions about the house, family, life, etc. It’s important for them to trust the relationship and to be open.
  • Add depth with follow-up questions.
  • Have the subject actively demonstrate their points if possible.  “My truck makes a sound.” = Get in the truck and check it out .


What you do and how you interact with your subject(s) is just as  important as what you say. Body-language and signage by your  subject(s) is also important. Make sure to pay attention to the details even if you’re making notes. Remember:

  • Remove coat (coats and objects are interpreted as barriers).
  • Mind that your notes or camera are not directly between you and the subject.
  • Maneuver subject(s) into a seated position not facing an immediate point of egress.
  • The subject should feel secure, but not enclosed.
  • Be aware of your body language and inflection.
  • Be observant of the body language, gesture-calls, posture, eye  movement etc. of the subject(s).
  • Silence is your friend.
  • Nodding but not saying anything will produce silence, which the subject will often try to fill by continuing deeper into a line of  explanation or discovery.  However, don’t spend your whole time nodding – let’s face it, it gets creapy.


Published by gavinjohnston67

Take an ex-chef who’s now a full-fledge anthropologist and set him free to conduct qualitative research, ethnography, brand positioning, strategy and sociolinguistics studies and you have Gavin. He is committed to understand design and business problems by looking at them through an anthropological lens. He believes deeply in turning research findings into actionable results that provide solid business strategies and design ideas. It's not an insight until you do something with it. With over 18 years of experience in strategy, research, and communications, he has done research worldwide for a diverse set of clients within retail, legal, banking, automotive, telecommunications, health care and consumer products industries.

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