d i g i t a l a d v i s o r . . .
An important part of interviewing is following up on things people tell you. Your initial question opens the door to an issue, and your interviewee's response is a first draft of an answer to your question. One that draft is on the table, you need to ask more questions to get the full story. Here are the main categories of follow-up questions you will need.
1. Clarify what they said
People tend to speak in abbreviated ways, assuming you know what they mean. Don't fall for that. Assume you don't know what they mean and ask questions to force them to say more. If a teacher says, "We went over this in class," ask what "went over" means to her. If a student says, "It was nice," ask what "nice" means to him. Plan on asking questions like these:
2. Get more details
Again, people will give you abbreviated summaries of things and you will find that you need to ask for more details. Here are the kind of questions you need to be prepared to ask:
3. Get their feelings, thoughts, rationale
Be prepared to ask questions of this type:
4. Ask about variations
You will want to learn if their response would be different in different circumstances. You might consider questions such as these.
5. Test their ideas a counterfactual
A counterfactual is an opposite situation. If a teacher says, I do "A" because it I have found it to be really effective," you want to know what she would think about option B. This helps clarify her views. Consider asking things like this:
6. Review all possible influences
You will probably want to know about a specific list of factors that you think are relevant to your topic. If you are asking about tests, for instance, you might want to know their response to, say, open-ended vs fixed option responses, or about the amount of time the test takes, or about how the results are used or something else. Though your initial questions should allow them to construct the issues, at some point you will want to ask about the variables or factors that are of special interest to you. So you can ask about them in particular, with questions like these:
7. Steer back after digressions
It is not uncommon for interviews to wander off course, and for you to spend a lot of time talking about things that will ultimately not be useful to you in your study. Don't let this turn into a chat. You want to be friendly and courteous, but you also have a task to do. To steer your interviewee back after a digression, try pushing on how the digression happened in the first place. Try questions like these:
8. Accommodate emotions
If your material is sensitive, or if it reminds your interviewee of something that is painful, your interviewee may becomes emotional, vent angrily or cry. You need not suddenly turn into Grandma Comforter. Merely pause turn off the tape and wait for the person to compose himself. Don't say much. There is no need. When they seem calmed down, ask if they are ready to continue, and turn the tape back on. Then return to the interview with a question that acknowledges the emotion, something like this:
© Mary Kennedy, 2006