As with any research method, interviewing requires a strong set of skills to ensure that the best data is gathered. This set of skills does not come easily, and usually is strengthened through experience. However, there are a few practices and tips you can use prior to any research study to ensure that you are prepared. After conducting my first interview ever for my qualitative research project as the UNH Extension Community and Economic Development Dalrymple Fellow, I realized that while I was not yet a masterful interviewer, I had learned some helpful skills that were more beneficial than I was aware of. As someone who enjoys learning about others’ lived experiences, especially when it involves how they interact with and improve their own communities, the interviewing process is enjoyable. With that, it also requires a lot of behind the scenes preparation prior to every interview, active listening during the interview, and many hours reviewing transcripts and coding your data. For such a time-consuming research method, compared to other qualitative methods, it is especially important to enjoy your topic. As obvious as that seems, it is one of my greatest takeaways.
When it comes to best practices for interviews, there are a few important tips to consider. There is no guarantee that your interviewee will be talkative for the entire interview, and it is your responsibility as the researcher to be prepared for that scenario, should it arise. This is where your interview question guide and script can be a lifesaver. My interview guide was something I would not have gotten through my first interviews without, especially having not been a participant in either academy myself! If possible, it is also helpful to create multiple question guides and practice asking other people to ensure you are phrasing them in the best way.
While conducting the interviews themselves, listening intently should always be the first priority. It not only allows you to think of additional probing questions, but also shows your interviewee that you are attentive and interested in what they have to say! In my first interview, I realized afterwards I was taking too many notes in the beginning when I should have been actively listening. This did not impact the data overall due to the interviews being audio recorded, but it was a learning opportunity.
While taking too many notes can hinder your active listening, it is still important to take notes. They can be one word or a short sentence and/or quote that you want to remember or ask about later. This will not only help you later on in the coding process, but also for recall purposes right after the interview when you are writing a reflexivity memo for yourself. While these are only a few tips and insights I’ve learned over the course of this semester, they are ones I will remember well into the future as I continue as a qualitative researcher.