How to conduct a sociological interview?

You are a sociology student and you need some advice to conduct your first interviews? In this article, we will give you some advice on how to conduct your first non-directive research interviews!

Of course, these tips should be adapted according to the interview you will have to carry out, your interactions with the interviewee or the phase of the survey in which your interview will take place.

Tip 1: Write an interview guide

In order to guide the conversation with your interviewee in a logical direction, you should prepare an interview guide beforehand. Over time, you will certainly have to modify it, following the various meetings or readings that will have had an impact on your research. Your guide should become a reference point to which you can refer during your interview: try not to get stuck on it, or on any chronology you might have wanted to follow.

This interview guide will enable you to prepare and anticipate the questions you will ask your interviewer. Of course, you will be able to interact about your readings and your questions, but if you have already met someone before, think about asking questions that build on the themes you discussed then.

Of course, your interviews will take place in different settings:

  • Statistical or archival method: take note of all the elements that will feed your questions or your follow-ups
  • Ethnographic survey: take note of the scenes and observations related to your respondent: you can then come back to this information later during the interview
  • You already know the interviewee: take note of all the information and experiences of this person, anecdotes, stories, etc. You can then use these elements during the interview. You can then use these elements in your discussions

Tip 2: Prepare and formulate the right questions

First of all, you will have to prepare your questions one by one, i.e. you should not ask several questions at the same time to your interviewer, who might be lost among the answers you are expecting. He or she might even forget certain elements, which in turn will cause you to lose a lot of essential data for your interview. So remember to ask one question after another.

When formulating your questions, avoid presuppositions: “I imagine”, “I think that”… These could block your interviewer and above all lead to a lot of confusion during your exchanges. It is important that you remain completely neutral so that the interviewee can express himself freely.

Similarly, do not answer your own question. It is important that you do not suggest answers to your interlocutor: he or she must be able to express the answer that suits him or her, without having to choose between several options that you would have proposed.

Also, do not make any value judgements: it is important that you do not point out that you would have done otherwise, that you do not like such and such an argument or that you do not agree… Especially when it is negative, your opinion must remain purely personal and must not pass judgement on the person you are talking to, who could then be very uncomfortable with the situation. You must respect their opinion. On the other hand, it would be appreciated if you showed your interest and surprise at some of the information given by your interviewer. You can then ask the interviewee for more detailed explanations that will allow them to think more deeply: your exchanges will be all the more enriching!

Furthermore, closed questions, which will inevitably lead to a “yes” or “no” answer, should also be avoided. They can nevertheless be very useful in the event that you need to ask your interviewer about a specific subject. However, avoid preparing closed questions: they will not add any value to your exchanges.

Again, when formulating your questions, turn them more towards the “how” rather than the “why”. Indeed, a question including “why” will give your interlocutor the feeling that he or she must justify himself or herself. They will be defensive and less likely to expand on their answer. By using “how”, you get them to think about the steps they have taken and the thoughts they have had. Their response will be more developed and will not be defensive.

Finally, conclude your questions with an open, more global question. In this last stage, the interviewee can come back to answers, to subjects that he or she was not able to go into in depth but that he or she still wants to mention. New points could then emerge: these will certainly be useful in building your future interviews.

Tip 3: Follow up with the interviewer

It is essential that you bear in mind that during your interviews you will have to follow up with your interviewees. This follow-up can be done in different ways, by questioning, by asking to repeat yourself or by expressing approval. However, your follow up should never interrupt the interviewer: if an idea comes to mind, it should be noted and returned to later.

On the other hand, don’t be afraid of silences that may occur during your exchanges. The person you are talking to may be thinking about something, or they may be trying to go into more detail: if you cut them off, you risk interrupting their thoughts and preventing them from developing their ideas in full.

Similarly, you can encourage the person you are talking to to continue talking. This can be done by facial expressions or by nodding your head. You can also repeat the interviewee’s last sentence in question form to help him or her continue.

Finally, if the interviewee expresses himself/herself in too general a manner, if he/she uses personal pronouns or expressions such as “the others” and you are not aware of the persons named, do not hesitate to ask for more details. Also, if you notice that he/she expresses a preference or depreciation, ask for clarification to better understand his/her motivations and interests. Avoid general answers by asking more personal questions such as what they liked, appreciated etc.

Tip 4: Be familiar with your field of investigation

In order to conduct your interview successfully and to gain the confidence of your interviewer, you must have a sufficient level of knowledge to enable the discussion to take place in the best possible conditions. Also, make sure you ask relevant questions that do not show your lack of information. Your knowledge should reassure the interviewee so that he or she can feel free to express himself or herself, without having to take on too much of a teaching role.

Tip 5: Dare to tackle sensitive issues

Following a process of reflection prior to the interview, you can use film extracts, photos, anecdotes or even documentaries to enable you to tackle sensitive issues. These materials can also be based on elements that your interviewer has already given you: you can then build on what he or she has said to tackle new subjects.

Tip 6: Transcribe your interviews

Transcribing a thirty-minute interview by hand could take several hours: the task is tedious and requires a lot of effort and time before obtaining an optimal result.

To make this task easier for you, we have created Noota, an automatic transcription platform that allows you to transcribe all the data exchanged during your interviews with one click.

All you have to do is record your interview in audio or video form and then import it directly into our platform. In a few minutes, we will transcribe your document! You can then make a few changes before exporting it in the format of your choice (Word, PDF, etc.).

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