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.



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