If your research is of a qualitative nature, it is more than likely you will conduct an interview at some stage. For many PhD students, interviews constitute their primary source of data. Although it can be daunting at first, the process of carrying them out is often fun, rewarding and enlightening. Your skills as an interviewer will improve with experience, and you will become more confident and assured with each attempt. This article outlines various suggestions for students using the interview method. Please note that the following advice forms a non-exhaustive list, so be sure to consult a variety of sources when preparing to collect your data.
Don’t delay! This may seem like a trivial suggestion, but it is surprising how long it can take to organise, prepare for and carry out an interview. Your time as a PhD student is easily absorbed by teaching duties, writing book chapters and tweaking your literature review. However, without data, you don’t have a project – so treat it as your first priority and be proactive in your approach. Persistence is key to securing access. Remember that although the interview is important to you, it probably isn’t to your participant. Which leads me to my next point…
Think about what you can offer them. If a person believes they will profit from meeting you, it is far more likely you will be afforded their time. Marketing an interview as a mutually beneficial experience will undoubtedly lead to a more inspired response from prospective subjects. Offering to assist their business on projects or simply promising access to the results of your study are useful ways of doing this. Either way, adding value to the lives of your participants in any way, big or small, will boost the chances of them treating your research with enthusiasm.
Broaden the conversation. Of course, you must ensure you spend the necessary time asking questions relevant to your research aims. However, if like me your interviewees are employed in an industry that you wish to join in the future, it is worthwhile spending time talking about issues that really interest them. This facilitates a more engaging and enjoyable conversation for the participant. If they enjoy conversing with you, they are then more likely to develop into useful business contacts in the future. So try to see the bigger picture! At worst, an engaging discussion will improve your chances of securing a follow-up interview.
Keep calm and transcribe. The task of transcribing interview data has a bad reputation. Unfortunately, that reputation is merited. It can be an exceptionally tedious and time-consuming exercise. Nevertheless, a number of useful software programs for slowing down audio clips are readily available online – making the process considerably easier. It is advisable to avoid letting yourself accumulate several hours of data before you begin transcribing. Small and manageable amounts at a time is the sensible approach. The monotonous nature of transcribing does provide one advantage – it requires little cognitive activity! That can be a welcomed change from virtually all other aspects of a PhD.
Picture by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung under CC license.