Jeromy Anglim's Blog: Psychology and Statistics

Monday, October 26, 2009

Depth Interviews | Applications, Thoughts, Resources

This post discusses depth interviews. The post: (a) provides a range of applications where interviews may be useful; (b) makes a few observations from my experience; (c) lists additional resources for the interested reader.

Initial Thoughts
Although I'm more strongly trained in quantitative data analysis, I abhor dogmatism. This includes the dogmatism that quantitative analysis is always better than qualitative analysis. Asking questions of other people is a powerful tool for learning. The art is knowing when to ask, who to ask, and how to ask.

The following are some common forms of interviews, with which I have some experience.
  • Market research: Depth interviews are useful for learn about the thoughts and opinions of customers.
  • Job interviews: 
  • Social Science Research: I often find interviews provide a useful supplement to quantitative research. A subset of individuals can be asked questions about closed-ended questions. This can be useful in pilot testing and test development. 
  • Consulting: e.g., Organisational Change, Information Gathering. Interviews are particularly useful for information gathering, problem definition phase, and for generating suggestions. 
  • Career Guidance
  • Statistical Consulting and other Professional Guidance Roles: These roles are strictly interviews. Rather, as an advisor I need to ask questions of the client in order to gather information and facilitate the client's thinking on the topic. I put this down here, because many of the same skills relevant to interviewing apply these these advisor roles.
  • Learning from Mentors, Supervisors, and others: I often have students come to talk to me about careers in I/O psychology. I'm always impressed with students who come prepared. They've thought about to whom they should talk and they have a set of relevant questions to ask.
Key Issues from my Perspective
  • Is a depth interview the appropriate means for obtaining the desired information? Depth interviews are great when: the range of possible answers is unknown; the meaning of a quantitative question or answer is not understood; the research is about factual answers, not attitudes, and the interviewees may have the answers; the aim is to learn about the language used in the domain; the aim is to form a preliminary understanding of thoughts and reasons for behaviour; the aim is to capture the breadth of thoughts about a particular topic. Depth interviews are poor at generalising or summarising population attributes. If the question is well defined and the aim is to make a statement about the population, quantitative methods tend to be better.
  • Asking open ended questions for purposes of information gathering is common to many domains.
  • Clarifying the aims and research questions is critical.
  • A Interview Guide links the research questions to specific interview questions. The guide also provides structure and flow to the interview. It also ensures important questions are covered.
  • Being familiar with content area is also highly important.
  • There are many dos and don'ts regarding interview questions. More ideas are listed below. Important points from my perspective: don't ask leading questions; Open Ended Questions are the key: e.g., those starting with: How, Why, Where, When, Why
  • When conducting the interview, listen accurately and actively. Active listening means encouraging, reiterating, being attentive and interested. 
  • Probing is an important skill to explore issues adaptively as they come up in an interview. Sayre, (2001) discusses four types of probing: Information probes: “What do you mean by …?; Nudging probes: “I see; hmm; and?”; Clearinghouse probes: “Is there anything more to add?”; Reflective and mirroring probes: “So what you are saying is…?”
Web Resources

1 comment:

  1. I was just emailed about the Sayre Reference in this post, so here it is:

    Shay Sayre:
    Qualitative Methods for Marketplace Research. Thousand Oaks CA: Sage (2001).

    For More info, see: