Monday, 13 July 2020

Preparing an Interview Script

As mentioned in other posts (here) the development of the data collection questions takes time, planning and care. We should have developed a research protocol which covers the elements we need to plan before the interview. Before the interview, in our interview protocol, we will already have planned to meet somewhere with few distractions, where the participant feels safe. We should also have planned how we would get to our location.
However, in addition, we also need to have developed an interview script which we take with us to the interview itself (Bolderston, 2012; Remenyi, 2011), which is the topic of this post.

The interview script is in three parts:
  1. Warm-up: within the interview script we should have listed what we will say to introduce our project to our participants, how we will remind them about their rights and our responsibilities, and the ‘rules of engagement’ around breaks, phones, potential discomfort, or potential withdrawal. We reiterate how long the interview will last, and how we will keep their identity confidential, and how their data will be used. We would remind our participants about who will have access to the interview recording – such as professional transcribers, research supervisors – and that these people are bound by either confidentiality agreements or codes of ethics. Although all this is quite serious, we are building trust in this stage, and need to be explicit about appreciating the gift that the participant is giving us. We should note a time down against this section, and have practiced delivering it, so that we know roughly how long it will take. Be prepared for questions, and factor in the time to answer these (Bolderston, 2012; McNamara, 2010; Remenyi, 2011).
  2. Interview questions: then we get into the main body of the interview, going through the data collection questions – if structured – item by item, further exploring using our prompts; or if semi-structured, following our lines of enquiry as they arise outside the script. Ask easy to answer questions early in the script to give the participant confidence. Get the participant feeling confident in talking. Build rapport. Work towards having the most important questions about a third of the way into the interview, while the participant is still fresh. Be watchful of the participant going off track, and steer them back onto your agenda. Make notes on the script. Jot impressions. Note the timestamp on the recording so we can go back to this point later (McNamara, 2010; Patton, 2014; Remenyi, 2011).

    We should have time estimates against each of our interview questions, and have practiced on a few volunteers to get a reasonable idea of how long it would take an ‘ideal’ candidate to answer our questions. As a rough rule of thumb, it takes around an hour to ask and obtain answers to ten to twelve open-ended questions. Once we have run through our questions, if we have time, we can go back to our notes and ensure that we have covered everything we needed to.
  3. Thanks: we need to thank the participant for their time, remind them of the next steps in the process (perhaps if there will be an email or a phone call follow up), and then wind the session up.
A note about time: as the interviewer, we need to keep a close eye on time, and when we get to the end of our agreed time, even if we have not received answers to all our questions, our ‘contract’ with our participant ends. We need to be careful not to have act hunger and push on without checking that going over the time even by five minutes. Stop, and thank the participant. If we have very few questions left to obtain answers to, we could ask the participant if they have the time and energy to answer our remaining questions.
If we have more than a couple of questions, we could also ask if we could call them later to obtain the remaining answers, at the same time as we might contact them to seek clarification of any of their other answers.

In general people are very generous, but we should be very careful not to take unnecessary advantage of that generosity.


  • Bolderston, A. (2012). Conducting a research interview. Journal of Medical Imaging and Radiation Sciences, 43(1), 66-76.
  • McNamara, C. (2010). General Guidelines for Conducting Interviews.
  • Patton, M. Q. (2015). Qualitative research and Evaluation Methods (4th ed.). SAGE Publications, Inc.
  • Remenyi, D. (2011). Field Methods for Academic Research - Interviews, Focus Groups and Questionnaires in Business and Management Studies (2nd ed.). Academic Publishing Ltd.

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