Friday, 10 July 2020

The interview protocol

When interviewing, it is usually good idea to set up an interview protocol before starting, and prepare a script to print and take with us. The script should detail our introductory statements, our questions and prompts, how long we expect each question to last, and have some blank notes areas for us to jot down any impressions as the interview progresses (see here for more information on data collection questions).

The things to consider are (McNamara, 2010; Remenyi, 2011):
  1. Before the interview starts:
    • Where we will hold the interview. We need to have somewhere where the participant feels safe, where we won't be interrupted, where it is quiet, where there is enough natural light, etc. We need to be aware that our participants may like to be interviewed in a familiar environment, such as at home or in the office. We need to have planned our travel to the location, and organised any other logistics such as refreshments, tissues, notes, pens, charging of any electronic equipment etc.
    • Ensure we have a hardcopy of our interview script (see here)
    • We need to ensure our participants understand their rights and our responsibilities with their data. We need to have clear boundaries and expectations, confidentiality, and how data will be recorded, analysed and stored (and storage duration). Participants need to understand and sign the informed consent form. We need to be sure that the participant understands the interview purpose. We reiterate how to contact us. They need to have already agreed to and have signed the informed consent form, which we will already have on file
    • We need to explain the interview structure, note-taking, the recording, and are explicit about the duration of the interview. We agree our time to meet and when the interview will end.
  2. During the interview:
    • First check that the recording is working before you get into the main body of the interview
    • Work through our interview script in our suggested order, using our listed prompts
    • Treat all our participant's answers with equanimity, as if we have "heard it all before" (Patton, 2014, p. 671) to reduce judgment and bias
    • Use note-taking judiciously (this is where a formatted interview script will help us - there will be a gap that we can simply make notes alongside the relevant question
    • The script should list bridging statements to help us to segue between elements of the interview - to smooth the transition between different sections of the interview
    • Keep the balance of who is talking on the participant side: aim for a maximum of 10% of interviewer time, and 90% participant.
  3. After the interview:
    • Thank our participants for the gift of their time in an email, a note, or a card. Reiterate that if they have any questions they can contact us. Let them know that you will email them whatever you have promised (such as a secure link to their recording, a copy of the paper, or a summary of the findings) as a courtesy
    • Check the recording, password it, photograph the notes, and save all the files to the location specified in our ethics approval
    • Make notes alongside our interview to clarify them while things are fresh in our mind. Photograph the additional notes and save to our save location
    • Note any reflections that we already have, and any impressions that we may now be noting. A useful list to consider is what went well; what could we have improved; what was missing; what surprised us. Save those files too to our save location.  
While this is not an exhaustive list, it does give us a place to start from. 


  • 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

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