In my school, many research students and journalism students are having to move their in person interviews to the online space. As a research methods nerd, I thought I would provide my hot tips for how to do a general purpose online interview for research and communications students. You are welcome to adapt this to your own needs.
What is an online interview?
An online interview is a structured conversation, consisting of the question set, an interviewer, an interviewee and the technology used to conduct and record the interview.
What makes them different to an in-person interview is:
- The role of the technology in facilitating real-time co-presence and interactivity
- The approach the interviewer takes to build rapport and curate the conversation.
Online interviews have been substantially explored in the research methods literature and the conversation surrounding them has been a long one. For example, Hinchcliffe and Gavin (2009) discuss early uses of instant messenger for interviews and Irvine (2011) provides a comparative analysis of in-person interviews to telephone interviews.
An online interview can be done by your mobile phone or through your laptop using audio-visual interfaces such as Skype (Janghorban et al 2014) or by text chat for example through IRC (Barratt & Maddox 2016). This means that they can be conducted with audio-visual interactivity and textual synchronicity.
Asynchronous interviewing, by email for example, is also possible and may be more convenient for some but lacks that live interplay and depends on the participant actually taking the time to write out their responses. For some, this is too much labour. Useful methods articles discussing this technique include Bampton et al (2013) and Burns (2010) and an example of it’s application can be found in this original study conducted by Van Hout and Bingham (2014).
What are they good for?
- Live interviews allow for the interviewer to seek clarification and follow threads of the conversation.
- They also allow for the ability of the interviewer to check that they understand the meaning of what the participant has said.
- Online interviews mean that you can conduct a real time interview, with another person, in a conversational format, but be in different spatial locations and contexts.
- It is possible to conduct anonymous interviews using IRC text chat and some other website interfaces.
- Online interviews are commonly used in the context of netnography (Kozinets 2020) or digital ethnography (Maddox 2020).
How do I design my questions?
Design your interview questions to start from an easy soft opening question that a) draws on the expert knowledge or life experience of your interview participant and b) is relevant to scope of the interview. Work up to more complex questions and go out with a meaningful yet “feel good” question that allows your participant to say what they think.
Be sure to ask the key questions that you want insights into that focus on the participants opinion and experience.
Make sure your questions are simple, clear, relevant and to the point.
How do I set up an online interview?
Setting up an interview online takes planning. It helps to plan how you will approach the interview, how you will coordinate your interview times with your participants and how you integrate technology into your interview process. Write your interview question set before you do the interview, and even test it out on a willing friend.
To coordinate interviews across timezones, you can use this handy website to determine the time overlap between you and your interviewee https://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/meeting.html
Some people use meeting calendar software where they show what timeslots they are available and people check the slot they want. This can act in lieu of using email to coordinate a shared time to conduct the interview. Here are a few options: https://zapier.com/blog/best-meeting-scheduler-apps/
You need to test your interview tech and make sure it works to support an effective interview. Check your mic, that your software is working, and that you can get a clear recording or effective notes from your interview.
Doing the interview
Set and Setting
Find a quiet place to do the interview. This helps so that you can focus on what the person is saying and will help you to capture the conversation.
Capturing what is said
You can either record the interview through the software you are using to conduct the interview or on your smartphone or smart device such as an iPad. Check with your participant about what they are most comfortable with of these options.
Make sure you have a pen and notepad as a simple back up that will work. In it, you can have your questions and also take notes. It always helps to take notes while you are doing the interview to keep track of the questions you want to ask that arise from the conversation you are having.
Most busy professionals would appreciate an interview that is 20 minutes at the most. Make sure you clarify on their time availability and ask all your key questions within that time.
You should start the interview by using a short summary statement to state what the interview is about and ask them if they are comfortable to proceed with it. Prior to the interview, you should have sent them an email with this basic information and confirming interview length, style of questions and location.
During the interview
Ask your first question and listen to what they have to say. This interview is about their opinion rather than your own, so listening is key. Ask for clarification of anything that they have said that you don’t understand or would like to know more about.
If the interviewee goes off track, politely bring them back to the question at hand and keep the time in mind.
Summarise the ideas they have shared with you to indicate that you have understood what they have said.
Closing the interview
When you’ve asked your last question, ask them if there is anything more they would like to add. When you have both finished the conversation, thank them for their time and let them know what you will do with this knowledge they have provided you. (i.e. use it for your assessment task and also consider how you can shape your learning and career practices using this knowledge.
Obtain permission from your interviewee to use the content of the interview in your assessment piece and include this permission as an appendix in your assessment submission. You can get this at the time by providing a short, 1 pager summarising the interview and containing a line of it with the interviewee’s name and something that says ” I consent to the information I have provided in this interview being used for assessment purposes” and a place for their signature and date.
Bampton, Roberta, Cowton, Christopher J. and Downs, Yvonne (2013) The einterview in qualitative research. In: Advancing social and business research methods with new media technology. IGI Global, Hershey, PA, USA, pp. 329343. ISBN 9781466639188
Barratt, M. J., & Maddox, A. (2016). Active engagement with stigmatised communities through digital ethnography. Qualitative Research, 16(6), 701–719. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468794116648766
Burns, E. (2010). Developing Email Interview Practices in Qualitative Research. Sociological Research Online, 15(4), 24–35. https://doi.org/10.5153/sro.2232
Hinchcliffe, Vanessa, and Helen Gavin (2009) “Social and virtual networks: evaluating synchronous online interviewing using instant messenger.” The Qualitative Report, vol. 14, no. 2, p. 318
Irvine, A. (2011). Duration, Dominance and Depth in Telephone and Face-to-Face Interviews: A Comparative Exploration. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 202–220. https://doi.org/10.1177/160940691101000302
Janghorban, R., Latifnejad Roudsari, R., & Taghipour, A. (2014). Skype interviewing: the new generation of online synchronous interview in qualitative research. International Journal Of Qualitative Studies On Health And Well-Being, 9, 24152. https://doi-org.ezproxy-b.deakin.edu.au/10.3402/qhw.v9.24152
Kozinets, RV 2020, Netnography: The essential guide to Qualitative Social Media Research, Third Edition edn, SAGE Publications Ltd.
Maddox, A. (2020). Disrupting the ethnographic imaginarium. Journal of Digital Social Research, 2(1), 20-38. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.33621/jdsr.v2i1.23
Van Hout, M. C., & Bingham, T. (2014). Responsible vendors, intelligent consumers: Silk Road, the online revolution in drug trading. International Journal of Drug Policy, 25(2), 183-189. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.drugpo.2013.10.009