Interview skills for Qualitative research

Hand holding a Microphone
Interview skills. Copyright

The majority of research in social science is carried out via a Qualitative approach, where the key research method is either the collection of multiple interviews or focus groups. These interviews are the most essential aspect of your data collection, they help you to understand the phenomenon you are studying in depth. Thus, I am often surprised to see how often researchers go into this crucial data collection process blind. Blind, in that they do very little interview rehearsals, very little time is spent running over different scenarios that may occur in an interview and finally, probably, the most crucial they spend very little time developing their interview skills.

For the completion of a successful interview a researcher must be able to effectively manage the interview process from beginning to end. Good interview management can often mean the collection of rich and nuanced data which adds value and depth to your research.

Hence, as with all things in the research process, managing and guiding the interview is a skill. To develop these skills, the researcher must always be focused and have a clear idea on the issues they want to discuss. Every question should have a relevance to the aims and objectives of the research with clear outcomes. So one of the first challenges for any researcher is to ease the interviewee in to the “here and now”, what does this actually mean I hear you ask! In layman terms we are trying to bring the respondent from the everyday social level to a deeper level where they can alongside the researcher focus on a specific topic or set of topics (Legard et al., 2003, p. 145).

To help achieve this there are many strategies that you can use, one of the most and logical popular ones is the one proposed by Oppenheim (1992) who mentions the need for an interview protocol. A protocol in this context is creating rules and guidelines that govern the outcome of the interview; in my view this is critical to ensure consistency across all your interviews and thus increase the reliability of your findings.

This is also supported by Legard et al., (2003), who is of the view that the start of the interview should be used as an opportunity by the researcher to lay down the basic ground rules of the interview. These rules in the view of Legard et al., (2003) should incorporate and make clear the role of the researcher as that of a facilitator, thus enabling the interviewee to discuss their thoughts and feelings. It is also important to remember that the start of the interview is also a chance for the researcher to take this opportunity to reiterate the nature and the purpose of the research, re-emphasising the confidentiality of the interview and seeking the permission of the respondent to record the interview. All cues that help the researcher to build trust and to reassure the interviewee that data will not be utilised in an inappropriate manner.

Another key skill, and one personally I think is absolutely vital to the success of your interview is the importance of creating good rapport in the early stages (Crabtree & DiCicco-Bloom, 2006). In the view of Crabtree and DiCicco-Bloom (2006) we are asking the respondent to trust the researcher with their thoughts, feelings and experiences, therefore rapport is essential as part of the trust building process. To use Rapport as a mechanism to put respondent at ease, will involve asking questions in an interested manner, making comments of agreement and giving support without influencing the respondent.

Finally there are some basic structural rules of thumb that a researcher should adhere to, firstly as a rule in-depth interviews should take no longer than 60-90 minutes. This gives the researcher ample time and opportunity to explore and develop the interviewee’s experiences. Secondly, Oppenheim (1992) recommends that all interviews should be carried out in a private, quiet and comfortable setting which is neutral and not intimidating.


Crabtree, B. F., & DiCicco-Bloom, B. (2006). The qualitative research interview. Medical Education, 40(4), 314–318.

Legard, R., Keegan, J., & Ward, K. (2003). In-depth interviews. In J. Ritchie & J. Lewis (Eds.), Qualitative research practice: A guide for social science students and researchers (pp. 138–169).

Oppenheim, A. N. (1992). Questionnaire design, interviewing and attitude measurement. New york: Continuum. Retrieved from,+interviewing+and+attitude+management&ots=szL98n_MiG&sig=SQMVFU88puNNPBr7_vPys0j-lyc#v=onepage&q&f=false


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