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Planning an interview for your project

Watch the video which introduces four novice researchers as they start to think about interviewing.
Let’s meet some new researchers going through the stages of preparing to conduct an interview
Hi I’m Fatima. Hi I’m Ivy. My name is Mustafa. Cinderella. And the research question we were thinking of doing is, what challenges do people experience as they travel during the day? We are going to explore the reasons of children’s drop out of schools. So now we know their research questions, but what kinds of interview questions will they ask? Well, this will depend on the interviewee, for instance, if we are speaking with a student, it won’t be really useful if we ask him about the curriculum or whether he likes it or not. We won’t do so, but we can start our interview with a question like, do you like or dislike your school?
He might respond saying yes, I do or I don’t! And we ask him, why you don’t like your school? And then, we can start off from there. And within this context, we may ask what do you most dislike at your classroom? Which groups of stakeholders have the researchers decided to interview about school dropout? We are thinking about interviewing teachers, representatives from the Ministry of Education and parents, and we may also involve students. And for the question about the daily commute? The three types of people we were thinking of were… so parents, especially moms with pushchairs, we’ve got elderly and disabled people and then we’ve got the ordinary commuter.
And they were looking at …we were thinking of, basically, what type of questions we could ask but focusing firstly on the type of data we would want. So we thinking, OK, we would definitely want, obviously, qualitative data but more, we were talking about how it would be really valuable to us to actually gain an understanding of the experiences that the individuals have on a daily basis in regards to their commute and, with those experiences, to build case studies. So in order to build those case studies and get those detailed descriptions of how it is difficult for them and why it’s difficult for them and how that experience affects them on a day to day basis,
to be able to then to actually ask them probing questions… And we were saying how we could ask probing questions, but could there be situations where we could be probing far too much? That it makes the individual uncomfortable and then we were talking about how we could ask a follow up question as well. Sometimes that could be relevant because a person might touch on a subject that we would actually want to know more about but we wouldn’t want to interrupt them either while they’re speaking because they would lose their train of thought.
We found that attentive listening and sympathy works really well and just agreeing with that like “that’s great”, you know, “tell me more about that” but actually making a note to say that actually I really want to go back to when they were talking about this. And the same is true for the students’ experience of drop out… Then, students are the most important part but when you are interviewing a student there can be some sensitive issues, but speaking with the parents can a bit easier, as well as the ministry’s representatives. In the next step we will see the researchers put this planning into practice by conducting an interview.

Watch the video which introduces four novice researchers as they start to think about interviewing. As you watch, think about how would you go about this stage of your research.

Ivy Tanzila and Fatima Uddin are from East London. They have previously taken part in the citizen science research project in East London described by Ben Anderson in step 2.4. Cinderella Al Homsi and Moustafa Ismail are current and former students from UCL. Moustafa is from Egypt and Cinderella is from Syria. We recommend watching the videos with English subtitles as they contain both English and Arabic.

The researchers are developing interview questions based on their research question. In the next step they will practice and reflect on how to do an interview, and what kinds of questions to ask. Join Ivy, Fatima, Cinderella and Moustafa by working through the same activities to develop and practice your own interview questions.

For this step, there are three exercises:

Exercise 1: Choose a research question from the following:

  • why do children stay away from school?
  • what challenges do people experience as they travel during the day?’

We will refer back to these as we work through the course

Or – create your own.

And we will remind you to reflect on this as we work through.

Exercise 2 Decide whom you could interview

  • Identify 3 types of people who could tell you something different about your chosen topic.
  • Make a note of what type of perspective each would bring to the issue.
  • Think about any other groups whose perspective is missing to create a more complete picture


  • What kind of effect you might have on the research: How could you ensure that their response to you does not negatively influence how they answer your questions?
  • Make some notes about the best way to recruit your interviewees, and where you could conduct the interviews (e.g. somewhere you won’t be disturbed).
  • Make some notes about how to appear friendly, open, relaxed during the interview e.g. should you start asking questions immediately you arrive?
  • Make some notes about what might be a sensitive question on this issue: how could you ask a sensitive question – what not to ask, what to ask?
  • Does your choice of interviewee open you up to having your assumptions challenged? How would you ask questions to make sure your assumptions are challenged?

Exercise 3: Drafting your interview questions

  • Draft 5 interview questions related to your Research Question.


  • The relationship between your research question and the questions you will ask participants in an interview? How will your participants’ responses help you answer your research question?

Record in your Research Notebook your response to all these questions

Over to you

In the discussion, share any difficulties you have had in choosing interviewees, and any issues that have occurred to you as you prepare your answers to these questions.

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