Research Interviewing: The Range of Techniques

By Bill Gillham | Go to book overview

3: The importance of question/
topic development

The most striking difference between an expert and a novice interviewer is the clarity, focus and economy of the questioning on the part of the former; and the redundancy and lack of clear focus in the questions posed by the latter. As with writing, this clarity is not easily or quickly achieved; behind any skilled performance is a great deal of specific preparation.

The development of the topics or areas of relevance to the researcher, and the precise wording and selection of questions, often receive scant attention in textbooks on interviewing. Yet they are critical for the construction of a research interview. Cost is one major consideration (it is a waste of time to ask redundant questions) but more important is whether the questions are really working to achieve the aims of the research.


The process of question development

In the order of things questions come first. Research questions (to be answered probably by a variety of methods) come, logically, before the methods themselves. But in reality it does not quite work like that: when you try to identify methods you may find you have to reframe questions (as Wittgenstein (1973) pointed out, it is a nonsense to ask questions that cannot be answered). As research gets under way, new questions emerge, even quite late in the proceedings.

To avoid confusion, let me reiterate that the broad research questions – to be addressed by the researcher – are different from the specific questions in a research interview: which is just one method in achieving the aims of the project.

For the purposes of an interview you may start by compiling a list of questions you might want to ask; you have to expect that these will be added to, or subtracted from, to yield the set of questions that will ultimately comprise your interview schedule. Writing down actual questions gets the ideas

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