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Conducting an interview

In this video, new researchers practice conducting an interview. They reflect on a video playback of the interview and then make a second attempt.
So can I ask you about public transport. So what form of transport do you use normally? I use the bus. In this video we are showing some of the practice interviews our researchers have done. This helps to give them confidence for doing the interviews and it also helps to make sure that they are asking clear questions.
Okay so if you if you found a genie in a bottle and you had three wishes, what would you change about public transport? I’d probably have like more space for pushchairs. Yeah. And for … some drivers are really good where they’ll say to people like that’s an empty pushchair fold it up - I’ve got another passenger coming in here I need to make space for them. yeah But the majority of passengers they might not notice or they’re not bothered. So I thought I’d want… I’d want the driver to be a lot more vocal, you know, to have people move down and make space for people - for mums with pushchairs.
So that was a good question and it was very open and allowed the interviewee to come up with some interesting observations about what they feel is needed In the next one, Cinderella is playing the role of a teacher… OK, in general, what are the challenges you face? And see that also facing the students themselves? that might affect their attendance at school. Foremost, the very first challenge is the huge. The number of students in one classroom.
Secondly, the curriculum is really a difficult intake for students Particularly, those of different backgrounds, for example, I teach at the afternoon shift so I have students coming from various countries like from Syria … Now the interview changes direction … all what you’re saying proves that teaching is not an easy profession, so in return to all these efforts you make, facing these overall challenges, do you think these efforts are compatible with the financial return you gain? Ah, to be honest, no. Firstly, what I think about teaching profession is a moral responsibility and whoever is pursuing this profession must be reliable and of the highest ethics and give everything …
Well that is an interesting response, but is it really relevant to the question of student drop-out? The review process is a chance to think about that.
Lets look again at that first question: [From the video] So I’m just going to ask you a bit about public transport… [From the video] so what form of public transport do you use normally? Possibly more elaboration was needed…? Yeah Because initially I think our agenda was to get as much info about the experiences - more stories - of and examples as well as of what’s happened and why was it so difficult and stuff and I don’t think there was enough of that.
And I think more probing questions or even a question to say “oh give me an example” or “give me … can you tell me about a time that you experienced this and that was really really you know difficult and stressful for you”. Yeah, and maybe follow up questions I see that we could focus on the students’ concerns more. There was a question that is not strongly relevant to our ultimate goal. which is identifying the main reasons that encourage students to drop out of school, like when I asked about the financial gain - whether it is sufficient in return for her efforts. It turned into speaking about her challenges as a teacher rather than the students’ challenges. Yes, I 100% agree!
It ended that we exploring potentials of improving the living or financial conditions of the teacher rather than addressing the main research question that we aim to find answers for, in regard with the issue of dropping out of school. I could ask her, for example, what are the top three challenges? Exactly, that would be more precise. We could add questions and be more specific through giving particular examples which can improve the quality of data we are collecting. So, after reflecting on your practice questions, you can have another go. How can you ask more specific questions? Can you give me a particular example of a really bad day on public transportation. Why that was such a bad day?
I’ll have to think….Yeah there’s like a lot of people and there’s a lot of pushing and shoving because you know I’m like really short so some people can’t even see that I’m there and they just barge past me. Yes really frustrating. And then sometimes they just give you the weirdest looks… What do you mean? Like something that I’ve done or something. Yeah. I’ve had that before. OK, Mustafa! Would you please tell me about the top challenges that you face as a teacher who works in a school that is accommodating different students coming from diverse backgrounds including refugees…?
If I would focus on the top challenges, I would say the huge number of students These examples illustrate the value of rehearsing your ideas for interview with a friend or colleague. Don’t expect to get it right first time. Trying out your questions first will always help you get the kinds of answers you need.

Watch the researchers practice and reflect on their interview. The video features Ivy Tanzila, citizen scientist, East London, Fatima Uddin, citizen scientist, East London, Cinderella Al Homsi, research assistant, UCL RELIEF Centre and Mustafa Ismail, MA student, UCL Institute of Education. We recommend watching the videos with English subtitles as they contain both English and Arabic.

After the researchers have practiced the interview, they watch it back and reflect on what was effective or could be improved. Then they repeat the interview – how have they tried to improve the second time?


Using the interview questions you developed in the last step, practice an interview with a friend, family member or colleague.

As you plan this, consider also the best way of recording the interview. Most researchers will use a digital recorder to capture the interview (you could use your phone, for example). If you decide to do this, it is important to ask the participants involved for their consent first – something we will discuss in week 3.


  • Which of your questions was most effective in eliciting meaningful responses?
  • Which of your questions was least effective in eliciting meaningful responses?
  • How could you improve the questions and your approach?

Note your responses to these questions in your Research Notebook

Over to you

Share your reflections in the discussion focusing on what you think worked well and what could be improved. Respond to others’ comments, noting how their responses could be turned into useful advice for novice researchers conducting an interview.

What is the best way to make sure that the recording does not fail? Should you have a back-up plan? If you have experience of recording an interview, provide some tips for other researchers.

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