Interview questionnaires

Interview questionnaires are often excellent for getting detailed information, although there are practical limits about how many people you can interview. They lend themselves best to open-ended questions and information that is not statistical, but can also work well for closed questions that generate statistical information.

The idea is simply that you write a list of questions and then interview people. Technically these are called "free informal interviews". One successful approach is to write a list of questions and use them in the following way.

  1. The first few questions are simply getting to know you questions for introduction. However, they often also disclose identity, that is, how people define themselfes, e.g. by place family, occupation, tribe, or status symbol.
  2. The remainder of the questions are specifically designed to elicit information that will lead to the solution of the research problem.
  3. Check that the questions are easy to understand, preferably if only heard once in natural conversation. It is usually necessary to re-focus and simplify questions to make them useful. Don't start before the questions are properly developed; it is better to get the questions right first, so that they the first interviews are not wasted with poor questions.
  4. Memorize the questionnaire so you can use it without suspicion-arousing notes.
  5. Keep interviews to friendly conversations, often in informal home visits, and memorize responses. In those circumstances, subjects explain at length and provide very good information.
  6. Write your field notes as soon as possible afterwards, not during the conversation. It might be immediately after the interview or that night when you get home. Some ethnographers learn to reproduce complete verbatims of long conversations up to a couple of days after their interviews.
  7. As you find out more about your topic, your list of questions will probably evolve into better questions.

Some researchers plan a series of visits to informants. The first few visits are getting to know you and later visits are given to more complex information.