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Research Interviews: An effective and insightful way of data collection

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Research interviews play a pivotal role in collecting data for various academic, scientific, and professional endeavors. They provide researchers with an opportunity to delve deep into the thoughts, experiences, and perspectives of an individual, thus enabling a comprehensive understanding of complex phenomena. It is important for researchers to design an effective and insightful method of data collection on a particular topic. A research interview is typically a two-person meeting conducted to collect information on a certain topic. It is a qualitative data collection method to gain primary information.

The three key features of a research interview are as follows:

Features of Research Interviews

Table of Contents

The Significance of Research Interviews in Gathering Primary Data

The role of research interviews in gathering first-hand information is invaluable. Additionally, they allow researchers to interact directly with participants, enabling them to collect unfiltered primary data.

Significance of Research Interviews

1. Subjective Experience

Research interviews facilitate in-depth exploration of a research topic. Thus, by engaging in one-to-one conversation with participants, researchers can delve into the nuances and complexities of their experiences, perspectives, and opinions. This allows comprehensive understanding of the research subject that may not be possible through other methods. Also, research interviews offer the unique advantage of capturing subjective experiences through personal narratives. Moreover, participants can express their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, which add depth to the findings.

2. Personal Insights

Research interviews offer an opportunity for participants to share their views and opinions on the objective they are being interviewed for. Furthermore, participants can express their thoughts and experiences, providing rich qualitative data . Consequently, these personal narratives add a human element to the research, thus enhancing the understanding of the topic from the participants’ perspectives. Research interviews offer the opportunity to uncover unanticipated insights or emerging themes. Additionally, open-ended questions and active listening can help the researchers to identify new perspectives, ideas, or patterns that may not have been initially considered. As a result, these factors can lead to new avenues for exploration.

3. Clarification and Validation

Researchers can clarify participants’ responses and validate their understanding during an interview. This ensures accurate data collection and interpretation. Additionally, researchers can probe deeper into participants’ statements and seek clarification on any ambiguity in the information.

4. Contextual Information

Research interviews allow researchers to gather contextual information that offers a comprehensive understanding of the research topic. Additionally, participants can provide insights into the social, cultural, or environmental factors that shape their experiences, behaviors, and beliefs. This contextual information helps researchers place the data in a broader context and facilitates a more nuanced analysis.

5. Non-verbal Cues

In addition to verbal responses, research interviews allow researchers to observe non-verbal cues such as body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Additionally, non-verbal cues can convey information, such as emotions, attitudes, or levels of comfort. Furthermore, integrating non-verbal cues with verbal responses provides a more holistic understanding of participants’ experiences and enriches the data collection process.

Research interviews offer several advantages, making them a reliable tool for collecting information. However, choosing the right type of research interview is essential for collecting useful data.

Types of Research Interviews

There are several types of research interviews that researchers can use based on their research goals , the nature of their study, and the data they aim to collect. Here are some common types of research interviews:

Types of Research Interviews

1. Structured Interviews

  • Structured interviews are standardized and follow a fixed format.
  • Therefore, these interviews have a pre-determined set of questions.
  • All the participants are asked the same set of questions in the same order.
  • Therefore, this type of interview facilitates standardization and allows easy comparison and quantitative analysis of responses.
  • As a result, structured interviews are used in surveys or studies which aims for a high level of standardization and comparability.

2. Semi-structured Interviews

  • Semi-structured interviews offer a flexible framework by combining pre-determined questions.
  • So, this gives an opportunity for follow-up questions and open-ended discussions.
  • Researchers have a list of core questions but can adapt the interview depending on the participant’s responses.
  • Consequently, this allows for in-depth exploration while maintaining some level of consistency across interviews.
  • As a result, semi-structured interviews are widely used in qualitative research, where content-rich data is desired.

3. Unstructured Interviews

  • Unstructured interviews provide the greatest flexibility and freedom in the interview process.
  • This type do not have a pre-determined set of questions.
  • Thus, the conversation flows naturally based on the participant’s responses and the researcher’s interests.
  • Moreover, this type of interview allows for open-ended exploration and encourages participants to share their experiences, thoughts, and perspectives freely.
  • Unstructured interviews useful to explore new or complex research topics, with limited preconceived questions.

4. Group Interviews (Focus Groups)

  • Group interviews involve multiple participants who engage in a facilitated discussion on a specific topic.
  • This format allows the interaction and exchange of ideas among participants, generating a group dynamic.
  • Therefore, group interviews are beneficial for capturing diverse perspectives, and generating collective insights.
  • They are often used in market research, social sciences, or studies demanding shared experiences.

5. Narrative Interviews

  • Narrative interviews focus on eliciting participants’ personal stories, views, experiences, and narratives. Researchers aim to look into the individual’s life journey.
  • As a result, this type of interview allows participants to construct and share their own narratives, providing rich qualitative data.
  • Qualitative research, oral history, or studies focusing on individual experiences and identities uses narrative interviews.

6. Ethnographic Interviews

  • Ethnographic interviews are conducted within the context of ethnographic research, where researchers immerse themselves in a specific social or cultural setting.
  • These interviews aim to understand participants’ experiences, beliefs, and practices within their cultural context, thereby understanding diversity in different ethnic groups.
  • Furthermore, ethnographic interviews involve building rapport, observing the participants’ daily lives, and engaging in conversations that capture the nuances of the culture under study.

It must be noted that these interview types are not mutually exclusive. Therefore, researchers often employ a combination of approaches to gather the most comprehensive data for their research. The choice of interview type depends on the research objectives and the nature of the research topic.

Steps of Conducting a Research Interview

Research interviews offer several benefits, and thus careful planning and execution of the entire process are important to gather in-depth information from the participants. While conducting an interview, it is essential to know the necessary steps to follow for ensuring success. The steps to conduct a research interview are as follows:

  • Identify the objectives and understand the goals
  • Select an appropriate interview format
  • Organize the necessary materials for the interview
  • Understand the questions to be addressed
  • Analyze the demographics of interviewees
  • Select the interviewees
  • Design the interview questions to gather sufficient information
  • Schedule the interview
  • Explain the purpose of the interview
  • Analyze the interviewee based on his/her responses

Considerations for Research Interviews

Since the flexible nature of research interviews makes them an invaluable tool for data collection, researchers must consider certain factors to make the process effective. They should avoid bias and preconceived notion against the participants. Furthermore, researchers must comply with ethical considerations and respect the cultural differences between them and the participants. Also, they should ensure careful tailoring of the questions to avoid making them offensive or derogatory. The interviewers must respect the privacy of the participants and ensure the confidentiality of their details.

Considerations for Research Interviews

By ensuring due diligence of these considerations associated with research interviews, researchers can maximize the validity and reliability of the collected data, leading to robust and meaningful research outcomes.

Have you ever conducted a research interview? What was your experience? What factors did you consider when conducting a research interview? Share it with researchers worldwide by submitting your thought piece on Enago Academy’s Open Blogging Platform .

Frequently Asked Questions

• Identify the objectives of the interview • State and explain the purpose of the interview • Select an appropriate interview format • Organize the necessary materials for the Interview • Check the demographics of the participants • Select the Interviewees or the participants • Prepare the list of questions to gather maximum useful data from the participants • Schedule the Interview • Analyze the participant based on his/ her Responses

Interviews are important in research as it helps to gather elaborative first-hand information. It helps to draw conclusions from the non-verbal views and personal experiences. It reduces the ambiguity of data through detailed discussions.

The advantages of research interviews are: • It offers first-hand information • Offers detailed assessment which can result in elaborate conclusions • It is easy to conduct • Provides non-verbal cues The disadvantages of research interviews are: • There is a risk of personal bias • It can be time consuming • The outcomes might be unpredictable

The difference between structured and unstructured interview are: • Structured interviews have well-structured questions in a pre-determined order; while unstructured interviews are flexible and do not have a pre-planned set of questions. • Structured interview is more detailed; while unstructured interviews are exploratory in nature. • Structured interview is easier to replicate as compared to unstructured interview.

Focus groups is a group of multiple participants engaging in a facilitated discussion on a specific topic. This format allows for interaction and exchange of ideas among participants.

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Chapter 11. Interviewing


Interviewing people is at the heart of qualitative research. It is not merely a way to collect data but an intrinsically rewarding activity—an interaction between two people that holds the potential for greater understanding and interpersonal development. Unlike many of our daily interactions with others that are fairly shallow and mundane, sitting down with a person for an hour or two and really listening to what they have to say is a profound and deep enterprise, one that can provide not only “data” for you, the interviewer, but also self-understanding and a feeling of being heard for the interviewee. I always approach interviewing with a deep appreciation for the opportunity it gives me to understand how other people experience the world. That said, there is not one kind of interview but many, and some of these are shallower than others. This chapter will provide you with an overview of interview techniques but with a special focus on the in-depth semistructured interview guide approach, which is the approach most widely used in social science research.

An interview can be variously defined as “a conversation with a purpose” ( Lune and Berg 2018 ) and an attempt to understand the world from the point of view of the person being interviewed: “to unfold the meaning of peoples’ experiences, to uncover their lived world prior to scientific explanations” ( Kvale 2007 ). It is a form of active listening in which the interviewer steers the conversation to subjects and topics of interest to their research but also manages to leave enough space for those interviewed to say surprising things. Achieving that balance is a tricky thing, which is why most practitioners believe interviewing is both an art and a science. In my experience as a teacher, there are some students who are “natural” interviewers (often they are introverts), but anyone can learn to conduct interviews, and everyone, even those of us who have been doing this for years, can improve their interviewing skills. This might be a good time to highlight the fact that the interview is a product between interviewer and interviewee and that this product is only as good as the rapport established between the two participants. Active listening is the key to establishing this necessary rapport.

Patton ( 2002 ) makes the argument that we use interviews because there are certain things that are not observable. In particular, “we cannot observe feelings, thoughts, and intentions. We cannot observe behaviors that took place at some previous point in time. We cannot observe situations that preclude the presence of an observer. We cannot observe how people have organized the world and the meanings they attach to what goes on in the world. We have to ask people questions about those things” ( 341 ).

Types of Interviews

There are several distinct types of interviews. Imagine a continuum (figure 11.1). On one side are unstructured conversations—the kind you have with your friends. No one is in control of those conversations, and what you talk about is often random—whatever pops into your head. There is no secret, underlying purpose to your talking—if anything, the purpose is to talk to and engage with each other, and the words you use and the things you talk about are a little beside the point. An unstructured interview is a little like this informal conversation, except that one of the parties to the conversation (you, the researcher) does have an underlying purpose, and that is to understand the other person. You are not friends speaking for no purpose, but it might feel just as unstructured to the “interviewee” in this scenario. That is one side of the continuum. On the other side are fully structured and standardized survey-type questions asked face-to-face. Here it is very clear who is asking the questions and who is answering them. This doesn’t feel like a conversation at all! A lot of people new to interviewing have this ( erroneously !) in mind when they think about interviews as data collection. Somewhere in the middle of these two extreme cases is the “ semistructured” interview , in which the researcher uses an “interview guide” to gently move the conversation to certain topics and issues. This is the primary form of interviewing for qualitative social scientists and will be what I refer to as interviewing for the rest of this chapter, unless otherwise specified.

Types of Interviewing Questions: Unstructured conversations, Semi-structured interview, Structured interview, Survey questions

Informal (unstructured conversations). This is the most “open-ended” approach to interviewing. It is particularly useful in conjunction with observational methods (see chapters 13 and 14). There are no predetermined questions. Each interview will be different. Imagine you are researching the Oregon Country Fair, an annual event in Veneta, Oregon, that includes live music, artisan craft booths, face painting, and a lot of people walking through forest paths. It’s unlikely that you will be able to get a person to sit down with you and talk intensely about a set of questions for an hour and a half. But you might be able to sidle up to several people and engage with them about their experiences at the fair. You might have a general interest in what attracts people to these events, so you could start a conversation by asking strangers why they are here or why they come back every year. That’s it. Then you have a conversation that may lead you anywhere. Maybe one person tells a long story about how their parents brought them here when they were a kid. A second person talks about how this is better than Burning Man. A third person shares their favorite traveling band. And yet another enthuses about the public library in the woods. During your conversations, you also talk about a lot of other things—the weather, the utilikilts for sale, the fact that a favorite food booth has disappeared. It’s all good. You may not be able to record these conversations. Instead, you might jot down notes on the spot and then, when you have the time, write down as much as you can remember about the conversations in long fieldnotes. Later, you will have to sit down with these fieldnotes and try to make sense of all the information (see chapters 18 and 19).

Interview guide ( semistructured interview ). This is the primary type employed by social science qualitative researchers. The researcher creates an “interview guide” in advance, which she uses in every interview. In theory, every person interviewed is asked the same questions. In practice, every person interviewed is asked mostly the same topics but not always the same questions, as the whole point of a “guide” is that it guides the direction of the conversation but does not command it. The guide is typically between five and ten questions or question areas, sometimes with suggested follow-ups or prompts . For example, one question might be “What was it like growing up in Eastern Oregon?” with prompts such as “Did you live in a rural area? What kind of high school did you attend?” to help the conversation develop. These interviews generally take place in a quiet place (not a busy walkway during a festival) and are recorded. The recordings are transcribed, and those transcriptions then become the “data” that is analyzed (see chapters 18 and 19). The conventional length of one of these types of interviews is between one hour and two hours, optimally ninety minutes. Less than one hour doesn’t allow for much development of questions and thoughts, and two hours (or more) is a lot of time to ask someone to sit still and answer questions. If you have a lot of ground to cover, and the person is willing, I highly recommend two separate interview sessions, with the second session being slightly shorter than the first (e.g., ninety minutes the first day, sixty minutes the second). There are lots of good reasons for this, but the most compelling one is that this allows you to listen to the first day’s recording and catch anything interesting you might have missed in the moment and so develop follow-up questions that can probe further. This also allows the person being interviewed to have some time to think about the issues raised in the interview and go a little deeper with their answers.

Standardized questionnaire with open responses ( structured interview ). This is the type of interview a lot of people have in mind when they hear “interview”: a researcher comes to your door with a clipboard and proceeds to ask you a series of questions. These questions are all the same whoever answers the door; they are “standardized.” Both the wording and the exact order are important, as people’s responses may vary depending on how and when a question is asked. These are qualitative only in that the questions allow for “open-ended responses”: people can say whatever they want rather than select from a predetermined menu of responses. For example, a survey I collaborated on included this open-ended response question: “How does class affect one’s career success in sociology?” Some of the answers were simply one word long (e.g., “debt”), and others were long statements with stories and personal anecdotes. It is possible to be surprised by the responses. Although it’s a stretch to call this kind of questioning a conversation, it does allow the person answering the question some degree of freedom in how they answer.

Survey questionnaire with closed responses (not an interview!). Standardized survey questions with specific answer options (e.g., closed responses) are not really interviews at all, and they do not generate qualitative data. For example, if we included five options for the question “How does class affect one’s career success in sociology?”—(1) debt, (2) social networks, (3) alienation, (4) family doesn’t understand, (5) type of grad program—we leave no room for surprises at all. Instead, we would most likely look at patterns around these responses, thinking quantitatively rather than qualitatively (e.g., using regression analysis techniques, we might find that working-class sociologists were twice as likely to bring up alienation). It can sometimes be confusing for new students because the very same survey can include both closed-ended and open-ended questions. The key is to think about how these will be analyzed and to what level surprises are possible. If your plan is to turn all responses into a number and make predictions about correlations and relationships, you are no longer conducting qualitative research. This is true even if you are conducting this survey face-to-face with a real live human. Closed-response questions are not conversations of any kind, purposeful or not.

In summary, the semistructured interview guide approach is the predominant form of interviewing for social science qualitative researchers because it allows a high degree of freedom of responses from those interviewed (thus allowing for novel discoveries) while still maintaining some connection to a research question area or topic of interest. The rest of the chapter assumes the employment of this form.

Creating an Interview Guide

Your interview guide is the instrument used to bridge your research question(s) and what the people you are interviewing want to tell you. Unlike a standardized questionnaire, the questions actually asked do not need to be exactly what you have written down in your guide. The guide is meant to create space for those you are interviewing to talk about the phenomenon of interest, but sometimes you are not even sure what that phenomenon is until you start asking questions. A priority in creating an interview guide is to ensure it offers space. One of the worst mistakes is to create questions that are so specific that the person answering them will not stray. Relatedly, questions that sound “academic” will shut down a lot of respondents. A good interview guide invites respondents to talk about what is important to them, not feel like they are performing or being evaluated by you.

Good interview questions should not sound like your “research question” at all. For example, let’s say your research question is “How do patriarchal assumptions influence men’s understanding of climate change and responses to climate change?” It would be worse than unhelpful to ask a respondent, “How do your assumptions about the role of men affect your understanding of climate change?” You need to unpack this into manageable nuggets that pull your respondent into the area of interest without leading him anywhere. You could start by asking him what he thinks about climate change in general. Or, even better, whether he has any concerns about heatwaves or increased tornadoes or polar icecaps melting. Once he starts talking about that, you can ask follow-up questions that bring in issues around gendered roles, perhaps asking if he is married (to a woman) and whether his wife shares his thoughts and, if not, how they negotiate that difference. The fact is, you won’t really know the right questions to ask until he starts talking.

There are several distinct types of questions that can be used in your interview guide, either as main questions or as follow-up probes. If you remember that the point is to leave space for the respondent, you will craft a much more effective interview guide! You will also want to think about the place of time in both the questions themselves (past, present, future orientations) and the sequencing of the questions.

Researcher Note

Suggestion : As you read the next three sections (types of questions, temporality, question sequence), have in mind a particular research question, and try to draft questions and sequence them in a way that opens space for a discussion that helps you answer your research question.

Type of Questions

Experience and behavior questions ask about what a respondent does regularly (their behavior) or has done (their experience). These are relatively easy questions for people to answer because they appear more “factual” and less subjective. This makes them good opening questions. For the study on climate change above, you might ask, “Have you ever experienced an unusual weather event? What happened?” Or “You said you work outside? What is a typical summer workday like for you? How do you protect yourself from the heat?”

Opinion and values questions , in contrast, ask questions that get inside the minds of those you are interviewing. “Do you think climate change is real? Who or what is responsible for it?” are two such questions. Note that you don’t have to literally ask, “What is your opinion of X?” but you can find a way to ask the specific question relevant to the conversation you are having. These questions are a bit trickier to ask because the answers you get may depend in part on how your respondent perceives you and whether they want to please you or not. We’ve talked a fair amount about being reflective. Here is another place where this comes into play. You need to be aware of the effect your presence might have on the answers you are receiving and adjust accordingly. If you are a woman who is perceived as liberal asking a man who identifies as conservative about climate change, there is a lot of subtext that can be going on in the interview. There is no one right way to resolve this, but you must at least be aware of it.

Feeling questions are questions that ask respondents to draw on their emotional responses. It’s pretty common for academic researchers to forget that we have bodies and emotions, but people’s understandings of the world often operate at this affective level, sometimes unconsciously or barely consciously. It is a good idea to include questions that leave space for respondents to remember, imagine, or relive emotional responses to particular phenomena. “What was it like when you heard your cousin’s house burned down in that wildfire?” doesn’t explicitly use any emotion words, but it allows your respondent to remember what was probably a pretty emotional day. And if they respond emotionally neutral, that is pretty interesting data too. Note that asking someone “How do you feel about X” is not always going to evoke an emotional response, as they might simply turn around and respond with “I think that…” It is better to craft a question that actually pushes the respondent into the affective category. This might be a specific follow-up to an experience and behavior question —for example, “You just told me about your daily routine during the summer heat. Do you worry it is going to get worse?” or “Have you ever been afraid it will be too hot to get your work accomplished?”

Knowledge questions ask respondents what they actually know about something factual. We have to be careful when we ask these types of questions so that respondents do not feel like we are evaluating them (which would shut them down), but, for example, it is helpful to know when you are having a conversation about climate change that your respondent does in fact know that unusual weather events have increased and that these have been attributed to climate change! Asking these questions can set the stage for deeper questions and can ensure that the conversation makes the same kind of sense to both participants. For example, a conversation about political polarization can be put back on track once you realize that the respondent doesn’t really have a clear understanding that there are two parties in the US. Instead of asking a series of questions about Republicans and Democrats, you might shift your questions to talk more generally about political disagreements (e.g., “people against abortion”). And sometimes what you do want to know is the level of knowledge about a particular program or event (e.g., “Are you aware you can discharge your student loans through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program?”).

Sensory questions call on all senses of the respondent to capture deeper responses. These are particularly helpful in sparking memory. “Think back to your childhood in Eastern Oregon. Describe the smells, the sounds…” Or you could use these questions to help a person access the full experience of a setting they customarily inhabit: “When you walk through the doors to your office building, what do you see? Hear? Smell?” As with feeling questions , these questions often supplement experience and behavior questions . They are another way of allowing your respondent to report fully and deeply rather than remain on the surface.

Creative questions employ illustrative examples, suggested scenarios, or simulations to get respondents to think more deeply about an issue, topic, or experience. There are many options here. In The Trouble with Passion , Erin Cech ( 2021 ) provides a scenario in which “Joe” is trying to decide whether to stay at his decent but boring computer job or follow his passion by opening a restaurant. She asks respondents, “What should Joe do?” Their answers illuminate the attraction of “passion” in job selection. In my own work, I have used a news story about an upwardly mobile young man who no longer has time to see his mother and sisters to probe respondents’ feelings about the costs of social mobility. Jessi Streib and Betsy Leondar-Wright have used single-page cartoon “scenes” to elicit evaluations of potential racial discrimination, sexual harassment, and classism. Barbara Sutton ( 2010 ) has employed lists of words (“strong,” “mother,” “victim”) on notecards she fans out and asks her female respondents to select and discuss.

Background/Demographic Questions

You most definitely will want to know more about the person you are interviewing in terms of conventional demographic information, such as age, race, gender identity, occupation, and educational attainment. These are not questions that normally open up inquiry. [1] For this reason, my practice has been to include a separate “demographic questionnaire” sheet that I ask each respondent to fill out at the conclusion of the interview. Only include those aspects that are relevant to your study. For example, if you are not exploring religion or religious affiliation, do not include questions about a person’s religion on the demographic sheet. See the example provided at the end of this chapter.


Any type of question can have a past, present, or future orientation. For example, if you are asking a behavior question about workplace routine, you might ask the respondent to talk about past work, present work, and ideal (future) work. Similarly, if you want to understand how people cope with natural disasters, you might ask your respondent how they felt then during the wildfire and now in retrospect and whether and to what extent they have concerns for future wildfire disasters. It’s a relatively simple suggestion—don’t forget to ask about past, present, and future—but it can have a big impact on the quality of the responses you receive.

Question Sequence

Having a list of good questions or good question areas is not enough to make a good interview guide. You will want to pay attention to the order in which you ask your questions. Even though any one respondent can derail this order (perhaps by jumping to answer a question you haven’t yet asked), a good advance plan is always helpful. When thinking about sequence, remember that your goal is to get your respondent to open up to you and to say things that might surprise you. To establish rapport, it is best to start with nonthreatening questions. Asking about the present is often the safest place to begin, followed by the past (they have to know you a little bit to get there), and lastly, the future (talking about hopes and fears requires the most rapport). To allow for surprises, it is best to move from very general questions to more particular questions only later in the interview. This ensures that respondents have the freedom to bring up the topics that are relevant to them rather than feel like they are constrained to answer you narrowly. For example, refrain from asking about particular emotions until these have come up previously—don’t lead with them. Often, your more particular questions will emerge only during the course of the interview, tailored to what is emerging in conversation.

Once you have a set of questions, read through them aloud and imagine you are being asked the same questions. Does the set of questions have a natural flow? Would you be willing to answer the very first question to a total stranger? Does your sequence establish facts and experiences before moving on to opinions and values? Did you include prefatory statements, where necessary; transitions; and other announcements? These can be as simple as “Hey, we talked a lot about your experiences as a barista while in college.… Now I am turning to something completely different: how you managed friendships in college.” That is an abrupt transition, but it has been softened by your acknowledgment of that.

Probes and Flexibility

Once you have the interview guide, you will also want to leave room for probes and follow-up questions. As in the sample probe included here, you can write out the obvious probes and follow-up questions in advance. You might not need them, as your respondent might anticipate them and include full responses to the original question. Or you might need to tailor them to how your respondent answered the question. Some common probes and follow-up questions include asking for more details (When did that happen? Who else was there?), asking for elaboration (Could you say more about that?), asking for clarification (Does that mean what I think it means or something else? I understand what you mean, but someone else reading the transcript might not), and asking for contrast or comparison (How did this experience compare with last year’s event?). “Probing is a skill that comes from knowing what to look for in the interview, listening carefully to what is being said and what is not said, and being sensitive to the feedback needs of the person being interviewed” ( Patton 2002:374 ). It takes work! And energy. I and many other interviewers I know report feeling emotionally and even physically drained after conducting an interview. You are tasked with active listening and rearranging your interview guide as needed on the fly. If you only ask the questions written down in your interview guide with no deviations, you are doing it wrong. [2]

The Final Question

Every interview guide should include a very open-ended final question that allows for the respondent to say whatever it is they have been dying to tell you but you’ve forgotten to ask. About half the time they are tired too and will tell you they have nothing else to say. But incredibly, some of the most honest and complete responses take place here, at the end of a long interview. You have to realize that the person being interviewed is often discovering things about themselves as they talk to you and that this process of discovery can lead to new insights for them. Making space at the end is therefore crucial. Be sure you convey that you actually do want them to tell you more, that the offer of “anything else?” is not read as an empty convention where the polite response is no. Here is where you can pull from that active listening and tailor the final question to the particular person. For example, “I’ve asked you a lot of questions about what it was like to live through that wildfire. I’m wondering if there is anything I’ve forgotten to ask, especially because I haven’t had that experience myself” is a much more inviting final question than “Great. Anything you want to add?” It’s also helpful to convey to the person that you have the time to listen to their full answer, even if the allotted time is at the end. After all, there are no more questions to ask, so the respondent knows exactly how much time is left. Do them the courtesy of listening to them!

Conducting the Interview

Once you have your interview guide, you are on your way to conducting your first interview. I always practice my interview guide with a friend or family member. I do this even when the questions don’t make perfect sense for them, as it still helps me realize which questions make no sense, are poorly worded (too academic), or don’t follow sequentially. I also practice the routine I will use for interviewing, which goes something like this:

  • Introduce myself and reintroduce the study
  • Provide consent form and ask them to sign and retain/return copy
  • Ask if they have any questions about the study before we begin
  • Ask if I can begin recording
  • Ask questions (from interview guide)
  • Turn off the recording device
  • Ask if they are willing to fill out my demographic questionnaire
  • Collect questionnaire and, without looking at the answers, place in same folder as signed consent form
  • Thank them and depart

A note on remote interviewing: Interviews have traditionally been conducted face-to-face in a private or quiet public setting. You don’t want a lot of background noise, as this will make transcriptions difficult. During the recent global pandemic, many interviewers, myself included, learned the benefits of interviewing remotely. Although face-to-face is still preferable for many reasons, Zoom interviewing is not a bad alternative, and it does allow more interviews across great distances. Zoom also includes automatic transcription, which significantly cuts down on the time it normally takes to convert our conversations into “data” to be analyzed. These automatic transcriptions are not perfect, however, and you will still need to listen to the recording and clarify and clean up the transcription. Nor do automatic transcriptions include notations of body language or change of tone, which you may want to include. When interviewing remotely, you will want to collect the consent form before you meet: ask them to read, sign, and return it as an email attachment. I think it is better to ask for the demographic questionnaire after the interview, but because some respondents may never return it then, it is probably best to ask for this at the same time as the consent form, in advance of the interview.

What should you bring to the interview? I would recommend bringing two copies of the consent form (one for you and one for the respondent), a demographic questionnaire, a manila folder in which to place the signed consent form and filled-out demographic questionnaire, a printed copy of your interview guide (I print with three-inch right margins so I can jot down notes on the page next to relevant questions), a pen, a recording device, and water.

After the interview, you will want to secure the signed consent form in a locked filing cabinet (if in print) or a password-protected folder on your computer. Using Excel or a similar program that allows tables/spreadsheets, create an identifying number for your interview that links to the consent form without using the name of your respondent. For example, let’s say that I conduct interviews with US politicians, and the first person I meet with is George W. Bush. I will assign the transcription the number “INT#001” and add it to the signed consent form. [3] The signed consent form goes into a locked filing cabinet, and I never use the name “George W. Bush” again. I take the information from the demographic sheet, open my Excel spreadsheet, and add the relevant information in separate columns for the row INT#001: White, male, Republican. When I interview Bill Clinton as my second interview, I include a second row: INT#002: White, male, Democrat. And so on. The only link to the actual name of the respondent and this information is the fact that the consent form (unavailable to anyone but me) has stamped on it the interview number.

Many students get very nervous before their first interview. Actually, many of us are always nervous before the interview! But do not worry—this is normal, and it does pass. Chances are, you will be pleasantly surprised at how comfortable it begins to feel. These “purposeful conversations” are often a delight for both participants. This is not to say that sometimes things go wrong. I often have my students practice several “bad scenarios” (e.g., a respondent that you cannot get to open up; a respondent who is too talkative and dominates the conversation, steering it away from the topics you are interested in; emotions that completely take over; or shocking disclosures you are ill-prepared to handle), but most of the time, things go quite well. Be prepared for the unexpected, but know that the reason interviews are so popular as a technique of data collection is that they are usually richly rewarding for both participants.

One thing that I stress to my methods students and remind myself about is that interviews are still conversations between people. If there’s something you might feel uncomfortable asking someone about in a “normal” conversation, you will likely also feel a bit of discomfort asking it in an interview. Maybe more importantly, your respondent may feel uncomfortable. Social research—especially about inequality—can be uncomfortable. And it’s easy to slip into an abstract, intellectualized, or removed perspective as an interviewer. This is one reason trying out interview questions is important. Another is that sometimes the question sounds good in your head but doesn’t work as well out loud in practice. I learned this the hard way when a respondent asked me how I would answer the question I had just posed, and I realized that not only did I not really know how I would answer it, but I also wasn’t quite as sure I knew what I was asking as I had thought.

—Elizabeth M. Lee, Associate Professor of Sociology at Saint Joseph’s University, author of Class and Campus Life , and co-author of Geographies of Campus Inequality

How Many Interviews?

Your research design has included a targeted number of interviews and a recruitment plan (see chapter 5). Follow your plan, but remember that “ saturation ” is your goal. You interview as many people as you can until you reach a point at which you are no longer surprised by what they tell you. This means not that no one after your first twenty interviews will have surprising, interesting stories to tell you but rather that the picture you are forming about the phenomenon of interest to you from a research perspective has come into focus, and none of the interviews are substantially refocusing that picture. That is when you should stop collecting interviews. Note that to know when you have reached this, you will need to read your transcripts as you go. More about this in chapters 18 and 19.

Your Final Product: The Ideal Interview Transcript

A good interview transcript will demonstrate a subtly controlled conversation by the skillful interviewer. In general, you want to see replies that are about one paragraph long, not short sentences and not running on for several pages. Although it is sometimes necessary to follow respondents down tangents, it is also often necessary to pull them back to the questions that form the basis of your research study. This is not really a free conversation, although it may feel like that to the person you are interviewing.

Final Tips from an Interview Master

Annette Lareau is arguably one of the masters of the trade. In Listening to People , she provides several guidelines for good interviews and then offers a detailed example of an interview gone wrong and how it could be addressed (please see the “Further Readings” at the end of this chapter). Here is an abbreviated version of her set of guidelines: (1) interview respondents who are experts on the subjects of most interest to you (as a corollary, don’t ask people about things they don’t know); (2) listen carefully and talk as little as possible; (3) keep in mind what you want to know and why you want to know it; (4) be a proactive interviewer (subtly guide the conversation); (5) assure respondents that there aren’t any right or wrong answers; (6) use the respondent’s own words to probe further (this both allows you to accurately identify what you heard and pushes the respondent to explain further); (7) reuse effective probes (don’t reinvent the wheel as you go—if repeating the words back works, do it again and again); (8) focus on learning the subjective meanings that events or experiences have for a respondent; (9) don’t be afraid to ask a question that draws on your own knowledge (unlike trial lawyers who are trained never to ask a question for which they don’t already know the answer, sometimes it’s worth it to ask risky questions based on your hypotheses or just plain hunches); (10) keep thinking while you are listening (so difficult…and important); (11) return to a theme raised by a respondent if you want further information; (12) be mindful of power inequalities (and never ever coerce a respondent to continue the interview if they want out); (13) take control with overly talkative respondents; (14) expect overly succinct responses, and develop strategies for probing further; (15) balance digging deep and moving on; (16) develop a plan to deflect questions (e.g., let them know you are happy to answer any questions at the end of the interview, but you don’t want to take time away from them now); and at the end, (17) check to see whether you have asked all your questions. You don’t always have to ask everyone the same set of questions, but if there is a big area you have forgotten to cover, now is the time to recover ( Lareau 2021:93–103 ).

Sample: Demographic Questionnaire

ASA Taskforce on First-Generation and Working-Class Persons in Sociology – Class Effects on Career Success

Supplementary Demographic Questionnaire

Thank you for your participation in this interview project. We would like to collect a few pieces of key demographic information from you to supplement our analyses. Your answers to these questions will be kept confidential and stored by ID number. All of your responses here are entirely voluntary!

What best captures your race/ethnicity? (please check any/all that apply)

  • White (Non Hispanic/Latina/o/x)
  • Black or African American
  • Hispanic, Latino/a/x of Spanish
  • Asian or Asian American
  • American Indian or Alaska Native
  • Middle Eastern or North African
  • Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
  • Other : (Please write in: ________________)

What is your current position?

  • Grad Student
  • Full Professor

Please check any and all of the following that apply to you:

  • I identify as a working-class academic
  • I was the first in my family to graduate from college
  • I grew up poor

What best reflects your gender?

  • Transgender female/Transgender woman
  • Transgender male/Transgender man
  • Gender queer/ Gender nonconforming

Anything else you would like us to know about you?

Example: Interview Guide

In this example, follow-up prompts are italicized.  Note the sequence of questions.  That second question often elicits an entire life history , answering several later questions in advance.

Introduction Script/Question

Thank you for participating in our survey of ASA members who identify as first-generation or working-class.  As you may have heard, ASA has sponsored a taskforce on first-generation and working-class persons in sociology and we are interested in hearing from those who so identify.  Your participation in this interview will help advance our knowledge in this area.

  • The first thing we would like to as you is why you have volunteered to be part of this study? What does it mean to you be first-gen or working class?  Why were you willing to be interviewed?
  • How did you decide to become a sociologist?
  • Can you tell me a little bit about where you grew up? ( prompts: what did your parent(s) do for a living?  What kind of high school did you attend?)
  • Has this identity been salient to your experience? (how? How much?)
  • How welcoming was your grad program? Your first academic employer?
  • Why did you decide to pursue sociology at the graduate level?
  • Did you experience culture shock in college? In graduate school?
  • Has your FGWC status shaped how you’ve thought about where you went to school? debt? etc?
  • Were you mentored? How did this work (not work)?  How might it?
  • What did you consider when deciding where to go to grad school? Where to apply for your first position?
  • What, to you, is a mark of career success? Have you achieved that success?  What has helped or hindered your pursuit of success?
  • Do you think sociology, as a field, cares about prestige?
  • Let’s talk a little bit about intersectionality. How does being first-gen/working class work alongside other identities that are important to you?
  • What do your friends and family think about your career? Have you had any difficulty relating to family members or past friends since becoming highly educated?
  • Do you have any debt from college/grad school? Are you concerned about this?  Could you explain more about how you paid for college/grad school?  (here, include assistance from family, fellowships, scholarships, etc.)
  • (You’ve mentioned issues or obstacles you had because of your background.) What could have helped?  Or, who or what did? Can you think of fortuitous moments in your career?
  • Do you have any regrets about the path you took?
  • Is there anything else you would like to add? Anything that the Taskforce should take note of, that we did not ask you about here?

Further Readings

Britten, Nicky. 1995. “Qualitative Interviews in Medical Research.” BMJ: British Medical Journal 31(6999):251–253. A good basic overview of interviewing particularly useful for students of public health and medical research generally.

Corbin, Juliet, and Janice M. Morse. 2003. “The Unstructured Interactive Interview: Issues of Reciprocity and Risks When Dealing with Sensitive Topics.” Qualitative Inquiry 9(3):335–354. Weighs the potential benefits and harms of conducting interviews on topics that may cause emotional distress. Argues that the researcher’s skills and code of ethics should ensure that the interviewing process provides more of a benefit to both participant and researcher than a harm to the former.

Gerson, Kathleen, and Sarah Damaske. 2020. The Science and Art of Interviewing . New York: Oxford University Press. A useful guidebook/textbook for both undergraduates and graduate students, written by sociologists.

Kvale, Steiner. 2007. Doing Interviews . London: SAGE. An easy-to-follow guide to conducting and analyzing interviews by psychologists.

Lamont, Michèle, and Ann Swidler. 2014. “Methodological Pluralism and the Possibilities and Limits of Interviewing.” Qualitative Sociology 37(2):153–171. Written as a response to various debates surrounding the relative value of interview-based studies and ethnographic studies defending the particular strengths of interviewing. This is a must-read article for anyone seriously engaging in qualitative research!

Pugh, Allison J. 2013. “What Good Are Interviews for Thinking about Culture? Demystifying Interpretive Analysis.” American Journal of Cultural Sociology 1(1):42–68. Another defense of interviewing written against those who champion ethnographic methods as superior, particularly in the area of studying culture. A classic.

Rapley, Timothy John. 2001. “The ‘Artfulness’ of Open-Ended Interviewing: Some considerations in analyzing interviews.” Qualitative Research 1(3):303–323. Argues for the importance of “local context” of data production (the relationship built between interviewer and interviewee, for example) in properly analyzing interview data.

Weiss, Robert S. 1995. Learning from Strangers: The Art and Method of Qualitative Interview Studies . New York: Simon and Schuster. A classic and well-regarded textbook on interviewing. Because Weiss has extensive experience conducting surveys, he contrasts the qualitative interview with the survey questionnaire well; particularly useful for those trained in the latter.

  • I say “normally” because how people understand their various identities can itself be an expansive topic of inquiry. Here, I am merely talking about collecting otherwise unexamined demographic data, similar to how we ask people to check boxes on surveys. ↵
  • Again, this applies to “semistructured in-depth interviewing.” When conducting standardized questionnaires, you will want to ask each question exactly as written, without deviations! ↵
  • I always include “INT” in the number because I sometimes have other kinds of data with their own numbering: FG#001 would mean the first focus group, for example. I also always include three-digit spaces, as this allows for up to 999 interviews (or, more realistically, allows for me to interview up to one hundred persons without having to reset my numbering system). ↵

A method of data collection in which the researcher asks the participant questions; the answers to these questions are often recorded and transcribed verbatim. There are many different kinds of interviews - see also semistructured interview , structured interview , and unstructured interview .

A document listing key questions and question areas for use during an interview.  It is used most often for semi-structured interviews.  A good interview guide may have no more than ten primary questions for two hours of interviewing, but these ten questions will be supplemented by probes and relevant follow-ups throughout the interview.  Most IRBs require the inclusion of the interview guide in applications for review.  See also interview and  semi-structured interview .

A data-collection method that relies on casual, conversational, and informal interviewing.  Despite its apparent conversational nature, the researcher usually has a set of particular questions or question areas in mind but allows the interview to unfold spontaneously.  This is a common data-collection technique among ethnographers.  Compare to the semi-structured or in-depth interview .

A form of interview that follows a standard guide of questions asked, although the order of the questions may change to match the particular needs of each individual interview subject, and probing “follow-up” questions are often added during the course of the interview.  The semi-structured interview is the primary form of interviewing used by qualitative researchers in the social sciences.  It is sometimes referred to as an “in-depth” interview.  See also interview and  interview guide .

The cluster of data-collection tools and techniques that involve observing interactions between people, the behaviors, and practices of individuals (sometimes in contrast to what they say about how they act and behave), and cultures in context.  Observational methods are the key tools employed by ethnographers and Grounded Theory .

Follow-up questions used in a semi-structured interview  to elicit further elaboration.  Suggested prompts can be included in the interview guide  to be used/deployed depending on how the initial question was answered or if the topic of the prompt does not emerge spontaneously.

A form of interview that follows a strict set of questions, asked in a particular order, for all interview subjects.  The questions are also the kind that elicits short answers, and the data is more “informative” than probing.  This is often used in mixed-methods studies, accompanying a survey instrument.  Because there is no room for nuance or the exploration of meaning in structured interviews, qualitative researchers tend to employ semi-structured interviews instead.  See also interview.

The point at which you can conclude data collection because every person you are interviewing, the interaction you are observing, or content you are analyzing merely confirms what you have already noted.  Achieving saturation is often used as the justification for the final sample size.

An interview variant in which a person’s life story is elicited in a narrative form.  Turning points and key themes are established by the researcher and used as data points for further analysis.

Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods Copyright © 2023 by Allison Hurst is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.


20 Most Common Research Scientist Interview Questions and Answers

Common Research Scientist interview questions, how to answer them, and sample answers from a certified career coach.

interview in scientific research

You’re ready to take the next step in your career and apply for a research scientist position. But first, you have to make it through the interview process.

Knowing what questions to expect ahead of time can help ease some of the anxiety that comes with interviewing. To get you started, here are some common research scientist interview questions—and tips on how to answer them.

  • What experience do you have in designing and conducting experiments?
  • Describe a research project that you are particularly proud of and explain why.
  • How do you ensure the accuracy and reliability of your data?
  • Explain how you use statistical analysis to interpret results from experiments.
  • Are you familiar with any software programs used for data analysis?
  • What strategies do you use to stay up-to-date on new developments in your field?
  • How do you handle conflicting opinions or interpretations of data within a team?
  • Describe a time when you had to troubleshoot an experiment that wasn’t producing expected results.
  • What is your experience with writing scientific papers and presenting findings at conferences?
  • How do you approach developing hypotheses and testing them through experimentation?
  • What techniques do you use to identify potential sources of bias in experimental design?
  • Do you have any experience working with interdisciplinary teams?
  • How do you manage competing deadlines and prioritize tasks?
  • What methods do you use to communicate complex scientific concepts to non-experts?
  • How do you evaluate the ethical implications of your research?
  • What strategies do you use to develop innovative solutions to challenging problems?
  • Have you ever encountered unexpected results during an experiment? How did you respond?
  • Describe a time when you had to collaborate with other researchers to achieve a common goal.
  • What would you do if you encountered a problem that was outside of your area of expertise?
  • How do you keep track of all the different elements involved in a research project?

1. What experience do you have in designing and conducting experiments?

Research scientists are the people who design and conduct experiments, analyze data, and draw conclusions from the results. It’s important to have experience in this area to make sure that the research is conducted properly and that the results are accurate. This question is also a way for the interviewer to assess your knowledge of the scientific method and how it’s used in research.

How to Answer:

In your answer, you should discuss any experience that you have in designing and conducting experiments. You can talk about the types of experiments you’ve conducted, such as laboratory experiments, field experiments, or surveys. Be sure to mention how you used the scientific method in each experiment, from developing a hypothesis to analyzing data. If you don’t have much direct experience, you can still talk about what you’ve learned about designing and conducting experiments through coursework or research projects.

Example: “I have experience in designing and conducting experiments from my work as a research assistant at XYZ University. I’ve conducted laboratory experiments, field experiments, and surveys to test hypotheses about different topics. In each experiment, I followed the scientific method by formulating a hypothesis, developing an experimental design, collecting data, analyzing it, and drawing conclusions. Additionally, I’ve studied the principles of experimental design in courses such as statistics and psychology. This has given me a strong foundation for understanding how to properly design and conduct experiments.”

2. Describe a research project that you are particularly proud of and explain why.

Research scientists need to be able to think critically and creatively when it comes to problem solving. This question gives the interviewer an opportunity to get a sense of your problem-solving skills and how you approach research. It also gives them insight into the results of your work and the value you can bring to the position.

To answer this question, you should discuss your experience with designing and conducting experiments. Explain the types of experiments you have conducted in the past and how you went about creating a hypothesis and testing it. Talk about the tools and methods you used to analyze data and draw conclusions. Be sure to mention any successes or challenges you faced during the process and how you overcame them. Finally, explain what you learned from these experiences and how they will help you succeed in the role you are applying for.

Example: “I’m particularly proud of a research project I completed last year on the effects of climate change on coral reefs. To conduct this research, I designed experiments to measure the changes in temperature and pH levels in different reef environments. I used sophisticated data analysis tools to analyze the results and draw conclusions about how these changes were impacting the health of the coral. Through this project, I learned a lot about the importance of collecting accurate data and using it to make informed decisions. This experience has helped me develop my problem-solving skills and will be invaluable as I continue to pursue research projects in the future.”

3. How do you ensure the accuracy and reliability of your data?

Research scientists must be able to trust the data they’re working with. Your interviewer will be looking for an understanding of the various methods and processes used to verify the accuracy and reliability of your data, and how you go about ensuring that you’re working with the best possible data to create meaningful results.

You should be prepared to discuss the methods you use to verify data accuracy and reliability. This could include double-checking your sources, running experiments multiple times to ensure consistent results, or using statistical tests to measure the validity of your findings. You should also emphasize any processes you have in place to monitor the quality of the data over time, such as regular reviews or audits. Finally, show that you understand the importance of data integrity by mentioning the potential consequences of inaccurate data.

Example: “I take data accuracy and reliability very seriously. I always double-check my sources to make sure they’re reputable and up-to-date, and I use statistical tests to measure the validity of my findings. I also have a process in place for regular audits and reviews of the data to make sure it remains accurate over time. Most importantly, I understand that inaccurate data can lead to faulty conclusions, which could negatively affect both our research results and reputation. That’s why I’m committed to ensuring that all data is as reliable and accurate as possible.”

4. Explain how you use statistical analysis to interpret results from experiments.

Research scientists are expected to be able to draw meaningful conclusions from the data they collect. This question is designed to determine if you know how to use statistical analysis to make sense of the results you collect. The interviewer wants to know that you can interpret the data and use it to make decisions and draw conclusions.

To answer this question, you should explain how you use statistical analysis to interpret the results from experiments. Talk about what type of statistical tests you use and when you use them. Also discuss any special techniques or software that you use for data analysis. Finally, talk about how you use the results of your analysis to make decisions and draw meaningful conclusions.

Example: “I use a variety of statistical tests and software to interpret the results from experiments. My most commonly used test is ANOVA, which I use to compare differences between two or more groups of data. I also use regression analysis to identify relationships between variables, as well as chi-square tests to determine if there are any significant associations between different factors. In addition, I am proficient in using SPSS for both descriptive and inferential statistics. With all this data, I’m able to draw meaningful conclusions about my findings and make informed decisions based on the results.”

5. Are you familiar with any software programs used for data analysis?

Research scientists rely heavily on data analysis to inform their research and draw conclusions. This means they must be familiar with a variety of software programs that can help them analyze the data they’ve collected. If the position requires a specific software program, the interviewer may ask this question to ensure that you’re familiar with it and can use it effectively.

Before the interview, research which software programs are commonly used for data analysis in your field. Make sure you’re familiar with these programs and can explain how to use them. During the interview, provide specific examples of when you have used a particular program or software suite. If possible, mention any experience you have using the specific software that the company uses. Finally, be sure to emphasize your ability to quickly learn new software if necessary.

Example: “I’m very familiar with software programs used for data analysis. I have extensive experience using SPSS and SAS, which are both common statistical software packages. In my current role as a research scientist at XYZ Research Institute, I often use R to analyze large datasets. I also have some experience with MATLAB, and am confident that I could quickly learn any new software programs necessary for the position.”

6. What strategies do you use to stay up-to-date on new developments in your field?

Research scientists need to stay on top of the latest developments in their field. You need to demonstrate that you can use a variety of methods to stay informed, such as reading scientific journals, attending conferences, and networking with other researchers. This shows that you have the initiative to stay current and can think critically about how to apply new developments to your work.

Talk about the strategies you use to stay informed. For example, do you read scientific journals? Do you attend conferences and seminars? Do you network with other researchers in your field? You can also talk about how you apply this knowledge to your work. Talk about how you use new developments to inform your research or develop new methods for conducting experiments.

Example: “I stay up-to-date on new developments in my field by reading scientific journals and attending conferences, seminars, and networking events. I also use online resources to keep abreast of the latest research and findings. For example, I’m a member of several professional organizations that share information about new discoveries and advancements in our field. With this knowledge, I’m able to apply current research to my own work and develop innovative methods for conducting experiments.”

7. How do you handle conflicting opinions or interpretations of data within a team?

Research scientists often work in teams, and it’s important to know how you’d handle differences in opinion or interpretation of data. The interviewer wants to know if you can be flexible and open to new ideas, or if you’re more likely to stick to your own views and interpretations. They’ll also want to know if you can work collaboratively with other researchers, and if you’re able to come up with creative solutions to complex problems.

To answer this question, you should explain how you’d approach a situation in which opinions or interpretations of data conflict. You could talk about the importance of open dialogue and collaboration between team members, and how you would facilitate such conversations. You can also discuss your ability to be flexible and consider different perspectives, as well as your willingness to work together with other researchers to come up with creative solutions that everyone is happy with.

Example: “I believe that when it comes to conflicting opinions or interpretations of data, the most important thing is to be open to dialogue and discussion. I understand that everyone has their own perspective and experiences with a particular problem, so I always try to create an environment where team members can express those views without fear of judgment. This helps us gain different insights into the issue at hand and encourages creative solutions. I’m also comfortable taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture to ensure we’re all on the same page—and if not, I’m confident in my ability to work collaboratively with other researchers to come up with a solution that works for everyone.”

8. Describe a time when you had to troubleshoot an experiment that wasn’t producing expected results.

Research scientists need to have the skills to troubleshoot experiments that don’t turn out as expected. This could mean analyzing data to identify possible sources of error, coming up with alternative hypotheses and testing strategies, or reaching out to colleagues for advice. This question will help the interviewer understand how you approach problem-solving, your resourcefulness in difficult situations, and your ability to think critically and come up with creative solutions.

To answer this question, you should provide a specific example of when you had to troubleshoot an experiment. Describe the steps you took to identify and address the problem, what resources you used (e.g., colleagues, literature, etc.), and how you ultimately solved the issue. If possible, describe the results of your efforts and any lessons learned that you can apply to future experiments.

Example: “I recently had to troubleshoot a project that wasn’t producing the expected results. I first identified the possible sources of error by analyzing the data and examining the experimental procedure. Then, I reached out to a colleague who had experience with similar experiments and asked for her advice. Based on her feedback, I adjusted the experimental parameters and re-ran the experiment. The results were much closer to the expected outcome, and I was able to identify several key factors that had been overlooked in the initial setup. This experience taught me the importance of asking for help when needed and being willing to adjust the parameters of an experiment if necessary.”

9. What is your experience with writing scientific papers and presenting findings at conferences?

Scientific research is an ongoing process of experimentation, data collection, and analysis. It is also a field that is highly collaborative and results-driven, which means that research scientists need to be able to communicate their findings in order to be successful. This question is designed to assess your ability to communicate your findings in both written and verbal formats.

Be sure to provide concrete examples of your experience in writing scientific papers and presenting findings at conferences. If you have published any papers, be sure to mention this as it shows that your work is highly regarded by the scientific community. Additionally, if you have ever presented your research at a conference or symposium, talk about what you learned from the experience and how it helped you grow as a researcher. Finally, highlight any awards or recognitions you may have received for your work.

Example: “I have extensive experience in writing scientific papers and presenting findings at conferences. I have published several papers in peer-reviewed journals, and I have presented findings at numerous conferences, symposiums, and other events. I have also received awards for my research, including a prize for best paper presented at a major international conference. Presenting my research to an audience is something I really enjoy, as it allows me to share my findings with a larger audience and receive feedback from other researchers and professionals in the field.”

10. How do you approach developing hypotheses and testing them through experimentation?

The scientific method is the basis of any scientific research and understanding how you approach it is key to know whether you’ll be successful in this role. The interviewer will want to know that you’re able to develop hypotheses, use the right tools to test them, and draw meaningful conclusions from the results. They’ll also want to make sure you have the critical thinking skills to work through complex problems and the creativity to come up with innovative solutions.

This question is designed to assess your ability to think critically, develop hypotheses and test them through experimentation. To answer this question, you should explain the steps you take when approaching a problem. For example, you could discuss how you brainstorm potential solutions, evaluate each solution’s feasibility, create an experiment plan, execute experiments, analyze data, draw conclusions from the results, and present those findings. You should also emphasize any experience you have with designing experiments, collecting data, and analyzing the results of your experiments.

Example: “When I approach developing hypotheses and testing them through experimentation, I start by brainstorming potential solutions and evaluating each solution’s feasibility. Then, I create an experiment plan and execute the experiments. After that, I analyze the data, draw conclusions from the results, and present those findings. I have extensive experience designing experiments, collecting data, and analyzing the results of my experiments. I am confident in my ability to use the scientific method to evaluate hypotheses and draw meaningful conclusions from the results.”

11. What techniques do you use to identify potential sources of bias in experimental design?

Researchers must have an understanding of the potential sources of bias that could affect their experiment, and the ability to identify them quickly. By asking this question, the interviewer wants to know that the candidate can identify potential sources of bias and has the experience to design experiments that will minimize the risk of bias.

To answer this question, you should discuss the techniques that you use to identify potential sources of bias in experimental design. Common techniques include conducting a literature review and using statistical tests such as ANOVA or chi-squared tests. You can also mention methods such as blinding, randomization, and replication. Additionally, you should explain how these techniques help minimize the risk of bias in your experiments.

Example: “I use several different techniques to identify potential sources of bias in experimental design. I always begin by conducting a thorough literature review to understand the existing research in the field and identify potential sources of bias. Additionally, I use statistical tests such as ANOVA or chi-squared tests to assess the effects of certain variables. I also make sure to use techniques such as blinding, randomization, and replication to minimize the risk of bias in my experiments. By using these techniques, I can ensure that my research is accurate and reliable.”

12. Do you have any experience working with interdisciplinary teams?

Research scientists often have to collaborate with other scientists and researchers in various fields. This means that being able to work with people from different backgrounds and share ideas and opinions is essential. By asking this question, the interviewer is looking to see if you have the interpersonal skills needed to work with a diverse group of people, as well as the ability to think critically and come up with creative solutions.

To answer this question, you should provide an example of a team project you worked on and how you contributed to its success. Talk about the different backgrounds of the people on the team and how you were able to collaborate with them to reach a successful outcome. You can also discuss any challenges you faced while working in a multidisciplinary setting, as well as what you learned from the experience.

Example: “I recently worked on a project with a team of researchers from different disciplines, including biology, chemistry, and physics. We were tasked with developing a new drug to treat a specific condition. Working with this interdisciplinary team was a great learning experience for me. I was able to gain insight into different scientific perspectives and approaches, which allowed us to come up with a more creative and effective solution. I also learned the importance of communication and collaboration in a multidisciplinary setting, and how to effectively work with people from different backgrounds to reach our goal.”

13. How do you manage competing deadlines and prioritize tasks?

Research scientists often have to juggle multiple projects at once and manage competing goals and deadlines. An interviewer will want to know that you can not only handle the workload, but also prioritize tasks and manage your time efficiently. They’ll also be looking for evidence that you can stay organized and on top of your projects to ensure that you can complete them on time.

To answer this question, you should provide examples of how you have managed competing deadlines and tasks in the past. Talk about your strategies for staying organized and prioritizing tasks, such as creating to-do lists or using project management tools. You can also explain how you keep track of deadlines and manage your time efficiently by breaking down large tasks into smaller ones and setting daily goals. Be sure to emphasize any successes you’ve had with managing multiple projects at once.

Example: “I have a lot of experience managing competing deadlines and tasks. I start by breaking down larger projects into smaller, more manageable tasks and assigning each task a priority level. I use project management tools to help me stay organized and on track, and I set daily goals to make sure I’m always making progress. I also make sure to communicate regularly with my team and stakeholders to ensure that everyone is aware of the timeline and priorities. This has enabled me to successfully manage multiple projects at once and meet tight deadlines.”

14. What methods do you use to communicate complex scientific concepts to non-experts?

Being a research scientist isn’t just about doing experiments and collecting data. You’ll also need to be able to explain your findings to non-experts in a way that’s understandable, engaging, and actionable. This question helps interviewers see how you can take complex concepts and break them down into something accessible to a general audience. They’ll want to know that you can communicate your work in an effective and efficient way.

To answer this question, you should focus on the methods that have worked for you in the past. You can talk about how you use visuals (e.g., charts, graphs, diagrams) to explain complex concepts; how you break down information into smaller digestible pieces; and how you create stories or analogies to make abstract ideas easier to understand. You can also mention any public speaking engagements you’ve done as a research scientist, such as presenting at conferences or giving lectures.

Example: “I’ve found that visuals are one of the best ways to communicate complex scientific concepts to non-experts. I’ll often use charts and diagrams to illustrate my points, as well as create stories or analogies to make the information more accessible. I also like to break down complex topics into smaller, more digestible pieces to make it easier for people to understand. I’ve presented my research at numerous conferences and have had to adjust my approach based on the audience, so I’m comfortable communicating scientific concepts to a wide range of people.”

15. How do you evaluate the ethical implications of your research?

Working in a scientific field often means dealing with sensitive information or data that could be misused or misinterpreted. It’s important for interviewers to know that you’re aware of the ethical implications of your research and that you take the necessary steps to ensure that your data is secure and used responsibly.

Start by discussing the steps you take to evaluate the ethical implications of your research. This could include conducting a risk assessment, consulting with an ethics committee or advisor, and ensuring that all data is stored securely. Talk about any specific protocols or processes you have in place for evaluating the ethical implications of your research. Finally, mention any experiences you have had dealing with ethical issues related to research, such as working with vulnerable populations or handling confidential information.

Example: “I always take the necessary steps to evaluate the ethical implications of my research. I start by conducting a risk assessment to identify any potential issues and then consulting with an ethics committee or advisor to discuss the best course of action. I also take steps to ensure that all data is stored securely and that appropriate protocols are in place to protect the privacy of those involved in the research. In the past, I have had to work with vulnerable populations, so I am well-versed in the ethical considerations that come with such research and have experience implementing protocols to ensure that their privacy is respected.”

16. What strategies do you use to develop innovative solutions to challenging problems?

Research scientists are expected to think outside the box to create solutions to complex problems. This question gives the interviewer insight into how you approach difficult tasks and how you use data and research to develop solutions. It allows them to understand how you approach your work and how you think through problems.

To answer this question, you should explain the process you use to develop innovative solutions. This might include describing how you brainstorm ideas and weigh different options, how you research potential solutions and evaluate their effectiveness, or how you collaborate with colleagues to come up with creative solutions. You should also provide an example of a time when you used these strategies to solve a challenging problem.

Example: “I approach challenging problems by first doing research to understand the underlying cause of the issue. I then use brainstorming techniques to generate potential solutions and evaluate their feasibility. I also collaborate with other researchers and colleagues to get their input and ideas. For example, when I was faced with a difficult problem in developing a new drug delivery system, I first researched the current methods and technologies available. After brainstorming with the team and evaluating the potential solutions, we were able to develop a novel drug delivery system that was more efficient and cost-effective than existing methods.”

17. Have you ever encountered unexpected results during an experiment? How did you respond?

Research scientists are expected to be able to think on their feet when the data they collect doesn’t quite match the hypothesis they’re testing. This question is a chance for the interviewer to see if you’re able to adjust your approach on the fly and be open to new ideas and solutions.

Talk about a time when you encountered unexpected results during an experiment and how you responded. Be sure to explain the steps you took to investigate why your results were different than expected, such as running additional tests or consulting with colleagues. Show that you’re able to think critically and come up with creative solutions. Explain what you learned from this experience and how it has shaped your approach to future experiments.

Example: “In my most recent research project, I was studying the effects of a certain pesticide on a species of plant. I was expecting the plants to die off after exposure to the pesticide, but to my surprise, the plants actually began to thrive. I took this unexpected result as an opportunity to dig deeper and investigate why this might be. I ran additional tests and spoke with colleagues in related fields to gain more insight. Through this process, I discovered that the pesticide was actually providing the plants with much-needed nutrients, which explained why they were thriving. This experience taught me the importance of being open to unexpected results and using them as an opportunity to explore further and gain a deeper understanding of the topic at hand.”

18. Describe a time when you had to collaborate with other researchers to achieve a common goal.

Research is a team effort, and as a research scientist, you need to be able to work with others to achieve your goals. This question is designed to get an idea of how well you are able to collaborate with colleagues and how you handle challenges that may arise when working with a team.

You should be prepared to provide a specific example of a time when you had to collaborate with other researchers to achieve a common goal. Describe the project, your role in it, and how you worked with others to accomplish the task. Talk about any challenges that arose during the process and how you overcame them. Finally, discuss what you learned from the experience and how it has helped shape your approach to collaboration today.

Example: “I recently collaborated with a team of researchers to develop a new method of measuring the effects of climate change on coral reefs. My role was to help design and implement a data collection system that could accurately measure the changes in the coral reef over time. I worked closely with the other researchers to ensure that our data was accurate and that we were following the correct protocols. We encountered some challenges along the way, such as having to adjust our protocols and data collection methods as new information became available, but we were able to work together and come up with solutions. This experience taught me the importance of effective collaboration and how to work through challenges to achieve a common goal.”

19. What would you do if you encountered a problem that was outside of your area of expertise?

Research scientists are expected to be able to identify and solve problems that emerge in their work, and it’s important for the interviewer to know that the candidate can handle a situation if they come across something that is outside of their area of expertise. This question is designed to find out how the candidate would approach a difficult problem and how they would frame their research to come up with a solution.

The best way to answer this question is to explain the steps you would take to research and solve the problem. Start by talking about how you would identify the issue, then explain how you would use resources such as journals, books, or online databases to find out more information about it. Finally, discuss how you would apply your knowledge to come up with a solution. Be sure to emphasize that you are comfortable working outside of your comfort zone and that you enjoy learning new things.

Example: “If I encountered a problem that was outside of my area of expertise, I would first take the time to research the issue and gain an understanding of the underlying concepts. I would use resources such as academic journals, books, and online databases to build my knowledge base. I would also reach out to colleagues who might have experience with the issue or be familiar with relevant studies. Finally, I would use the information I gathered to develop a solution to the problem. I’m comfortable working outside of my comfort zone and I enjoy learning new things, so I’m confident that I could find a solution to any problem I may face.”

20. How do you keep track of all the different elements involved in a research project?

Research projects can be incredibly complex and require a great deal of organization and attention to detail. An interviewer will want to know how you keep track of all the different elements of a project and how you’re able to ensure that everything gets done in a timely and organized manner. This question can also be used to gauge how well you can handle multiple tasks and prioritize them efficiently.

To answer this question, you should explain the methods and tools that you use to stay organized. For example, you could mention using a project management system such as Trello or Asana, or keeping lists in a spreadsheet program like Excel or Google Sheets. You may also want to discuss how you break down projects into smaller tasks and prioritize them accordingly. Additionally, it’s important to emphasize your ability to be flexible and adjust plans when needed.

Example: “I’m very organized and I use a combination of tools to keep track of my research projects. I use a project management system like Asana to break down my projects into smaller tasks and prioritize them according to deadlines. I also keep a spreadsheet of all the elements involved in the project, including timelines, tasks, and any materials I need to collect. I find that having a visual representation of the project helps me stay on track and makes it easier to adjust my plans when needed.”

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Chapter 10: Qualitative Data Collection & Analysis Methods

10.1 Interview Research

Interviewing is a qualitative research technique and a valuable skill. Interviews are used by market researchers to learn how to sell their products; journalists use interviews to get information from a whole host of people, from VIPs to random people on the street. From the social scientific perspective, interviews are a method of data collection that involves two or more people exchanging information through a series of questions and answers. The questions are designed by a researcher to elicit information from interview participant(s) on a specific topic or set of topics. Typically interviews involve an in-person meeting between two people, an interviewer and an interviewee. But as you will discover in this chapter, interviews need not be limited to two people, nor must they occur in person.

Research Methods for the Social Sciences: An Introduction Copyright © 2020 by Valerie Sheppard is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Job-search basics: a scientific approach to interviewing

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16 Research Scientist Interview Questions (With Example Answers)

It's important to prepare for an interview in order to improve your chances of getting the job. Researching questions beforehand can help you give better answers during the interview. Most interviews will include questions about your personality, qualifications, experience and how well you would fit the job. In this article, we review examples of various research scientist interview questions and sample answers to some of the most common questions.

Research Scientist Resume Example

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Common Research Scientist Interview Questions

What experience do you have in conducting research, what scientific disciplines are you familiar with, what research methods do you feel most comfortable using, what populations or subjects have you studied in your research, what do you feel are the most important factors to consider when designing a research study, how do you go about finding literature relevant to your research topic, what do you think is the most important thing to remember when analyzing data, what sources of bias do you think can impact research results, how do you think researchers can best avoid bias in their work, do you think there are ethical considerations that should be taken into account when conducting research if so, what do you feel are the most important ethical considerations, what do you think is the most important thing to remember when writing up research results, do you think there are ways to present research results that are more effective than others if so, what do you feel are the most effective ways to present research results, what do you think is the best way to disseminate research findings to the public, do you think there are ways to make research more accessible to the layperson if so, what do you feel are the most effective ways to make research more accessible to the layperson, what do you think is the best way to get funding for research projects, do you think there are ways to make research more efficient and cost-effective if so, what do you feel are the most effective ways to make research more efficient and cost-effective.

An interviewer would ask a research scientist what experience they have in conducting research in order to gauge their ability to design and carry out scientific studies. This is important because research scientists are responsible for planning and executing experiments, analyzing data, and drawing conclusions based on their findings. Having experience in conducting research is essential for being successful in this role.

Example: “ I have experience in conducting research from my time as a graduate student. I have worked on projects in a variety of fields, including medicine, psychology, and sociology. I have also worked on projects that involved both qualitative and quantitative methods. In addition, I have experience in working with both small and large data sets. ”

The interviewer is trying to gauge the research scientist's breadth of knowledge. It is important to know what scientific disciplines the research scientist is familiar with because it will give the interviewer a better understanding of the research scientist's areas of expertise.

Example: “ I am familiar with the scientific disciplines of biology, chemistry, and physics. I have also studied mathematics and computer science, which are important for many research projects. ”

There are many research methods available to scientists, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. By asking which methods the research scientist is most comfortable with, the interviewer can get a sense of which methods the scientist is most familiar with and which ones they are most likely to be able to use effectively. This is important because the effectiveness of a research project can often be greatly affected by the research methods used.

Example: “ I am most comfortable using quantitative research methods, such as surveys and experiments. I feel that these methods allow for the most accurate and objective data to be collected and analyzed. I also have experience with qualitative research methods, such as interviews and focus groups. These methods can provide valuable insights into people's thoughts and experiences. ”

There are many reasons why an interviewer might ask a research scientist about the populations or subjects they have studied in their research. One reason is to get a sense of the types of research the scientist has experience with. Another reason might be to gauge the scientist's level of expertise in a particular area. Additionally, the interviewer may be interested in learning about the researcher's methods for studying different populations or subjects. Finally, this question may reveal important information about the scientist's future research plans.

Example: “ I have studied a variety of populations and subjects in my research, including children, adolescents, adults, and older adults; people with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders; people from diverse cultural backgrounds; and people who have experienced trauma. ”

The interviewer is trying to gauge the research scientist's understanding of the research process and their ability to design a study that will produce valid results. It is important to consider the research question, the population of interest, the study design, and the data collection methods when designing a research study.

Example: “ There are many important factors to consider when designing a research study, but some of the most important include: 1. The research question: What is it you want to learn or answer through your research? This will guide the rest of the design process. 2. The population of interest: Who or what are you studying? This will help determine the appropriate sampling method and data collection procedures. 3. The setting: Where will the research take place? This can affect things like logistics, budget, and ethical considerations. 4. The timeline: How long do you have to conduct the research? This can influence the methods used and the scope of the project. 5. The resources: What kind of financial, material, and human resources are available to you? This can limit or enable certain aspects of the study design. ”

The interviewer is trying to gauge the research scientist's ability to find and use relevant literature in their work. This is important because it shows whether the research scientist is able to keep up with new developments in their field and incorporate them into their research.

Example: “ There are a few different ways to go about finding literature relevant to your research topic. One way is to search for specific authors or papers that have been cited in other papers on the topic. Another way is to use a search engine such as Google Scholar or PubMed to find papers that are relevant to your keywords. Finally, you can also attend conferences and symposia related to your field of research to stay up-to-date on the latest developments. ”

There are a few reasons why an interviewer might ask this question to a research scientist. First, it allows the interviewer to gauge the research scientist's level of experience and expertise. Second, it allows the interviewer to see how the research scientist approaches data analysis. Finally, it allows the interviewer to determine whether the research scientist is able to identify important trends and patterns in data.

The most important thing to remember when analyzing data is to ensure that all data is of high quality. This means that the data is accurate, reliable, and complete. Without high-quality data, it is impossible to produce accurate results.

Example: “ There are many important things to remember when analyzing data, but one of the most important is to ensure that the data is complete and accurate. This means checking for errors, omissions, and inconsistencies in the data set. It is also important to understand the limitations of the data set and to know how the data was collected. ”

There are many sources of bias that can impact research results, and it is important to be aware of them in order to avoid them. Some common sources of bias include selection bias, which can occur when the subjects of a study are not randomly selected from the population; self-reporting bias, which can occur when people do not accurately report their behavior or characteristics; and confirmation bias, which can occur when people tend to seek out information that supports their existing beliefs.

Example: “ There are many sources of bias that can impact research results. Some common sources of bias include self-selection bias, confirmation bias, and selection bias. Self-selection bias can occur when the sample of people who participate in a study is not representative of the population of interest. For example, if a study is conducted online, people who choose to participate may be more likely to have strong opinions on the topic being studied than those who do not participate. This can skew the results of the study. Confirmation bias can occur when researchers only look for evidence that supports their hypotheses, and ignore evidence that does not. This can lead to false positives and false negatives in research findings. Selection bias can occur when the way that participants are selected for a study introduces bias. For example, if a study is conducted on people who are already patients at a hospital, this may introduce selection bias because these people may not be representative of the general population. ”

The interviewer is likely interested in the methods that research scientists use to avoid bias in their work. This is important because bias can lead to inaccurate results and conclusions. There are a number of ways to avoid bias, including using randomization, controlling for variables, and using blind or double-blind procedures.

Example: “ There are a number of ways that researchers can best avoid bias in their work. First, they should be aware of their own personal biases and how these might influence their research. Second, they should strive to create an objective research design that minimizes the potential for bias. Third, they should collect data from a variety of sources and use methods that allow for replication and verification. Finally, they should critically examine their results and conclusions to ensure that they are not influenced by bias. ”

There are many ethical considerations that should be taken into account when conducting research, as research can have a profound impact on people's lives. The most important ethical considerations include:

- Respecting the autonomy of research participants and ensuring that they are fully informed about the study and what it involves.

- Protecting the confidentiality of research participants and ensuring that their data is kept secure.

- minimizing the risks associated with the research and ensuring that any potential benefits outweigh those risks.

Example: “ When conducting research, there are a number of ethical considerations that should be taken into account. The most important ethical considerations include: 1. Informed consent: Informed consent means that participants in a study must be fully informed about the nature and purpose of the study, and must give their voluntary and informed consent to participate. This includes providing participants with information about any risks and benefits associated with participating in the study. 2. Protection of participant confidentiality: Participants in a study must be assured that their confidentiality will be protected. This means that any information collected about them during the course of the study will be kept confidential and will not be shared with anyone outside of the research team. 3. Respect for participant autonomy: Participants in a study must be respected as autonomous individuals. This means that they should be free to make their own decisions about whether or not to participate in the study, and they should not be coerced into participating. 4. Protection of participant welfare: Participants in a study must be protected from any risks associated with participating in the study. This includes ensuring that they are not exposed to any physical or psychological harm as a result of participating in the study. ”

An interviewer would ask a research scientist this question in order to gauge their understanding of the research process and their ability to communicate findings effectively. It is important for researchers to be able to communicate their findings clearly and concisely in order to advance their field of study. Additionally, clear and effective communication of research results can help to secure funding for future projects.

Example: “ When writing up research results, it is important to be clear, concise, and accurate. Make sure to include all relevant information and details, and avoid any ambiguity or confusion. Be sure to proofread your work carefully before publishing or presenting it to others. ”

There are a few reasons why an interviewer might ask this question to a research scientist. First, the interviewer may be interested in the research scientist's opinion on the best ways to communicate research results. Second, the interviewer may be interested in the research scientist's opinion on the most effective ways to present research results. This question is important because it allows the interviewer to get a sense of the research scientist's views on communication and presentation. Additionally, the answer to this question can help the interviewer understand how the research scientist approaches communication and presentation.

Example: “ There are definitely ways to present research results that are more effective than others. In my opinion, the most effective ways to present research results are those that are clear, concise, and easy to understand. Additionally, it is important to make sure that the presentation is visually appealing and engaging. ”

The interviewer is likely asking this question to gauge the research scientist's ability to communicate complex information to a lay audience. It is important for research scientists to be able to communicate their findings to the public because the public relies on them to provide accurate and understandable information about scientific discoveries. If research scientists cannot communicate their findings effectively, the public may not be able to make informed decisions about important issues such as climate change or medical treatments.

Example: “ There are a number of ways to disseminate research findings to the public. One way is to publish the findings in a peer-reviewed journal. This ensures that the findings have been vetted by experts in the field and are of high quality. Another way is to present the findings at a conference or symposium. This allows researchers to share their work with their peers and get feedback. Finally, many researchers also communicate their findings to the public through popular media outlets such as newspapers, magazines, or television. This helps to ensure that the general public is aware of new research and can make informed decisions about issues that affect them. ”

There are a few reasons why an interviewer might ask this question to a research scientist. First, the interviewer may be interested in the researcher's opinion on how to make scientific research more understandable and accessible to the general public. Second, the interviewer may be curious about what strategies the researcher uses to communicate their findings to a lay audience. Finally, the interviewer may want to know if the researcher is passionate about making their work more accessible to people outside of the scientific community.

It is important for researchers to be able to communicate their findings to a lay audience because it helps to ensure that the public is informed about the latest scientific discoveries. It also allows researchers to share their work with people who may not have the background knowledge necessary to understand complex scientific concepts. Additionally, making research more accessible to the layperson can help to increase interest in science and encourage more people to pursue careers in research.

Example: “ There are a number of ways that research can be made more accessible to the layperson. One way is to make sure that research is published in accessible formats, such as plain language summaries or infographics. Another way is to provide opportunities for the public to engage with researchers, such as through public lectures or open days. Finally, it is also important to ensure that research findings are communicated effectively to the media and policy-makers, so that they can be used to inform decision-making. ”

An interviewer might ask "What do you think is the best way to get funding for research projects?" to a researcher in order to gauge their opinion on the matter. It is important to know how researchers think about funding because it can impact the quality and quantity of research that is conducted. Additionally, it can also impact the amount of time and resources that are dedicated to a project. If a researcher believes that there is a better way to fund research projects, it is important to know what that is so that the interviewer can consider it.

Example: “ There are many ways to get funding for research projects, but the best way depends on the project and the researcher. Some common ways to get funding include grants from government agencies or private foundations, contracts from companies, and donations from individuals. ”

There are a few reasons why an interviewer might ask this question to a research scientist. First, the interviewer may be interested in the research scientist's thoughts on how to make the research process more efficient. Second, the interviewer may be interested in the research scientist's thoughts on how to make research more cost-effective. Finally, the interviewer may be interested in the research scientist's thoughts on both of these topics.

The question is important because it allows the interviewer to gauge the research scientist's level of experience and knowledge on the topic of efficiency and cost-effectiveness in research. Additionally, the question allows the interviewer to get a sense of the research scientist's problem-solving skills and ability to think critically about ways to improve the research process.

Example: “ There are always ways to make research more efficient and cost-effective. One way to make research more efficient is by using technology to automate tasks that would otherwise be done manually. This can help to speed up the research process and allow for more accurate data collection. Additionally, using technology can help to reduce the need for expensive laboratory equipment and supplies. Another way to make research more efficient is by streamlining the research process itself. This might involve developing better protocols or methods for conducting experiments and analyzing data. Additionally, improving communication and collaboration among researchers can help to make the research process more efficient. Finally, it is important to always be looking for ways to improve the efficiency of the research process so that it can be as cost-effective as possible. ”

Related Interview Questions

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13.1 Interview research: What is it and when should it be used?

Learning objectives.

  • Define interviews from the social scientific perspective
  • Identify when it is appropriate to employ interviews as a data-collection strategy

Knowing how to create and conduct a good interview is an essential skill. Interviews are used by market researchers to learn how to sell their products. Journalists use interviews to get information from a host of people, from VIPs to random people on the street. Police use interviews to investigate crimes. It seems everyone who’s anyone knows how to conduct an interview.

two people talking in a dark restaurant

In social science,  interviews are a method of data collection that involves two or more people exchanging information through a series of questions and answers. The questions are designed by a researcher to elicit information from interview participants on a specific topic or set of topics. These topics are informed by the author’s research questions. Interviews typically involve an in-person meeting between two people (an interviewer and an interviewee), but interviews need not be limited to two people, nor must they occur in-person.

You may be wondering when you should choose interviews as your data collection method. Interviews are an excellent way to gather detailed information. They also have an advantage over surveys, as they can be adapted as you learn more information. Recall that survey data collection methods do not allow researchers to change the questions that are administered, even if a participant’s response sparks some follow-up question in your mind. All participants must be asked the same questions in the same manner. The questions you decided to put on your survey during the design stage determine what data you get. In an interview, however, you can follow up on new and unexpected topics that emerge during the conversation. Trusting in emergence and learning from your participants are hallmarks of qualitative research. In this way, interviews are a useful method to employ when you want to know the story behind the responses you might receive in a written survey.

Interviews are also useful when your topic is rather complex, requires lengthy explanation, or needs a dialogue between two people to thoroughly investigate. Additionally, interviews may be the best method to utilize if your study involves describing the process by which a phenomenon occurs, like how a person makes a decision. For example, you could use interviews to gather data about how people reach the decision not to have children and how others in their lives have responded to that decision. To understand these processes, you would need to exchange dialogue with respondents. When they begin to share their story with you, new questions that hadn’t occurred to you in prior interviews will arise because each person’s story is unique. Further, closed-ended survey questions would not be as effective in capturing the complex process of choosing not to have children.

In sum, interview research is especially useful when the following are true:

  • You wish to gather very detailed information
  • You anticipate wanting to ask respondents follow-up questions based on their responses
  • You plan to ask questions that require lengthy explanation
  • You are studying a complex or potentially confusing topic to respondents
  • You are studying processes, such as how people make decisions

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding how to design and conduct interview research is a useful skill to have.
  • In a social scientific interview, two or more people exchange information through a series of questions and answers.
  • Interview research is often used when detailed information is required and when a researcher wishes to examine processes.

Interviews- a method of data collection that involves two or more people exchanging information through a series of questions and answers

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The Interview Method In Psychology

Saul Mcleod, PhD

Editor-in-Chief for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Saul Mcleod, PhD., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years of experience in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

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Olivia Guy-Evans, MSc

Associate Editor for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MSc Psychology of Education

Olivia Guy-Evans is a writer and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in healthcare and educational sectors.

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Interviews involve a conversation with a purpose, but have some distinct features compared to ordinary conversation, such as being scheduled in advance, having an asymmetry in outcome goals between interviewer and interviewee, and often following a question-answer format.

Interviews are different from questionnaires as they involve social interaction. Unlike questionnaire methods, researchers need training in interviewing (which costs money).

Multiracial businesswomen talk brainstorm at team meeting discuss business ideas together. Diverse multiethnic female colleagues or partners engaged in discussion. Interview concept

How Do Interviews Work?

Researchers can ask different types of questions, generating different types of data . For example, closed questions provide people with a fixed set of responses, whereas open questions allow people to express what they think in their own words.

The researcher will often record interviews, and the data will be written up as a transcript (a written account of interview questions and answers) which can be analyzed later.

It should be noted that interviews may not be the best method for researching sensitive topics (e.g., truancy in schools, discrimination, etc.) as people may feel more comfortable completing a questionnaire in private.

There are different types of interviews, with a key distinction being the extent of structure. Semi-structured is most common in psychology research. Unstructured interviews have a free-flowing style, while structured interviews involve preset questions asked in a particular order.

Structured Interview

A structured interview is a quantitative research method where the interviewer a set of prepared closed-ended questions in the form of an interview schedule, which he/she reads out exactly as worded.

Interviews schedules have a standardized format, meaning the same questions are asked to each interviewee in the same order (see Fig. 1).

interview schedule example

   Figure 1. An example of an interview schedule

The interviewer will not deviate from the interview schedule (except to clarify the meaning of the question) or probe beyond the answers received.  Replies are recorded on a questionnaire, and the order and wording of questions, and sometimes the range of alternative answers, is preset by the researcher.

A structured interview is also known as a formal interview (like a job interview).

  • Structured interviews are easy to replicate as a fixed set of closed questions are used, which are easy to quantify – this means it is easy to test for reliability .
  • Structured interviews are fairly quick to conduct which means that many interviews can take place within a short amount of time. This means a large sample can be obtained, resulting in the findings being representative and having the ability to be generalized to a large population.


  • Structured interviews are not flexible. This means new questions cannot be asked impromptu (i.e., during the interview), as an interview schedule must be followed.
  • The answers from structured interviews lack detail as only closed questions are asked, which generates quantitative data . This means a researcher won’t know why a person behaves a certain way.

Unstructured Interview

Unstructured interviews do not use any set questions, instead, the interviewer asks open-ended questions based on a specific research topic, and will try to let the interview flow like a natural conversation. The interviewer modifies his or her questions to suit the candidate’s specific experiences.

Unstructured interviews are sometimes referred to as ‘discovery interviews’ and are more like a ‘guided conservation’ than a strictly structured interview. They are sometimes called informal interviews.

Unstructured interviews are most useful in qualitative research to analyze attitudes and values. Though they rarely provide a valid basis for generalization, their main advantage is that they enable the researcher to probe social actors’ subjective points of view.

Interviewer Self-Disclosure

Interviewer self-disclosure involves the interviewer revealing personal information or opinions during the research interview. This may increase rapport but risks changing dynamics away from a focus on facilitating the interviewee’s account.

In unstructured interviews, the informal conversational style may deliberately include elements of interviewer self-disclosure, mirroring ordinary conversation dynamics.

Interviewer self-disclosure risks changing the dynamics away from facilitation of interviewee accounts. It should not be ruled out entirely but requires skillful handling informed by reflection.

  • An informal interviewing style with some interviewer self-disclosure may increase rapport and participant openness. However, it also increases the chance of the participant converging opinions with the interviewer.
  • Complete interviewer neutrality is unlikely. However, excessive informality and self-disclosure risk the interview becoming more of an ordinary conversation and producing consensus accounts.
  • Overly personal disclosures could also be seen as irrelevant and intrusive by participants. They may invite increased intimacy on uncomfortable topics.
  • The safest approach seems to be to avoid interviewer self-disclosures in most cases. Where an informal style is used, disclosures require careful judgment and substantial interviewing experience.
  • If asked for personal opinions during an interview, the interviewer could highlight the defined roles and defer that discussion until after the interview.
  • Unstructured interviews are more flexible as questions can be adapted and changed depending on the respondents’ answers. The interview can deviate from the interview schedule.
  • Unstructured interviews generate qualitative data through the use of open questions. This allows the respondent to talk in some depth, choosing their own words. This helps the researcher develop a real sense of a person’s understanding of a situation.
  • They also have increased validity because it gives the interviewer the opportunity to probe for a deeper understanding, ask for clarification & allow the interviewee to steer the direction of the interview, etc. Interviewers have the chance to clarify any questions of participants during the interview.
  • It can be time-consuming to conduct an unstructured interview and analyze the qualitative data (using methods such as thematic analysis).
  • Employing and training interviewers is expensive and not as cheap as collecting data via questionnaires . For example, certain skills may be needed by the interviewer. These include the ability to establish rapport and knowing when to probe.
  • Interviews inevitably co-construct data through researchers’ agenda-setting and question-framing. Techniques like open questions provide only limited remedies.

Focus Group Interview

Focus group interview is a qualitative approach where a group of respondents are interviewed together, used to gain an in‐depth understanding of social issues.

This type of interview is often referred to as a focus group because the job of the interviewer ( or moderator ) is to bring the group to focus on the issue at hand. Initially, the goal was to reach a consensus among the group, but with the development of techniques for analyzing group qualitative data, there is less emphasis on consensus building.

The method aims to obtain data from a purposely selected group of individuals rather than from a statistically representative sample of a broader population.

The role of the interview moderator is to make sure the group interacts with each other and do not drift off-topic. Ideally, the moderator will be similar to the participants in terms of appearance, have adequate knowledge of the topic being discussed, and exercise mild unobtrusive control over dominant talkers and shy participants.

A researcher must be highly skilled to conduct a focus group interview. For example, the moderator may need certain skills, including the ability to establish rapport and know when to probe.

  • Group interviews generate qualitative narrative data through the use of open questions. This allows the respondents to talk in some depth, choosing their own words. This helps the researcher develop a real sense of a person’s understanding of a situation. Qualitative data also includes observational data, such as body language and facial expressions.
  • Group responses are helpful when you want to elicit perspectives on a collective experience, encourage diversity of thought, reduce researcher bias, and gather a wider range of contextualized views.
  • They also have increased validity because some participants may feel more comfortable being with others as they are used to talking in groups in real life (i.e., it’s more natural).
  • When participants have common experiences, focus groups allow them to build on each other’s comments to provide richer contextual data representing a wider range of views than individual interviews.
  • Focus groups are a type of group interview method used in market research and consumer psychology that are cost – effective for gathering the views of consumers .
  • The researcher must ensure that they keep all the interviewees” details confidential and respect their privacy. This is difficult when using a group interview. For example, the researcher cannot guarantee that the other people in the group will keep information private.
  • Group interviews are less reliable as they use open questions and may deviate from the interview schedule, making them difficult to repeat.
  • It is important to note that there are some potential pitfalls of focus groups, such as conformity, social desirability, and oppositional behavior, that can reduce the usefulness of the data collected.
For example, group interviews may sometimes lack validity as participants may lie to impress the other group members. They may conform to peer pressure and give false answers.

To avoid these pitfalls, the interviewer needs to have a good understanding of how people function in groups as well as how to lead the group in a productive discussion.

Semi-Structured Interview

Semi-structured interviews lie between structured and unstructured interviews. The interviewer prepares a set of same questions to be answered by all interviewees. Additional questions might be asked during the interview to clarify or expand certain issues.

In semi-structured interviews, the interviewer has more freedom to digress and probe beyond the answers. The interview guide contains a list of questions and topics that need to be covered during the conversation, usually in a particular order.

Semi-structured interviews are most useful to address the ‘what’, ‘how’, and ‘why’ research questions. Both qualitative and quantitative analyses can be performed on data collected during semi-structured interviews.

  • Semi-structured interviews allow respondents to answer more on their terms in an informal setting yet provide uniform information making them ideal for qualitative analysis.
  • The flexible nature of semi-structured interviews allows ideas to be introduced and explored during the interview based on the respondents’ answers.
  • Semi-structured interviews can provide reliable and comparable qualitative data. Allows the interviewer to probe answers, where the interviewee is asked to clarify or expand on the answers provided.
  • The data generated remain fundamentally shaped by the interview context itself. Analysis rarely acknowledges this endemic co-construction.
  • They are more time-consuming (to conduct, transcribe, and analyze) than structured interviews.
  • The quality of findings is more dependent on the individual skills of the interviewer than in structured interviews. Skill is required to probe effectively while avoiding biasing responses.

The Interviewer Effect

Face-to-face interviews raise methodological problems. These stem from the fact that interviewers are themselves role players, and their perceived status may influence the replies of the respondents.

Because an interview is a social interaction, the interviewer’s appearance or behavior may influence the respondent’s answers. This is a problem as it can bias the results of the study and make them invalid.

For example, the gender, ethnicity, body language, age, and social status of the interview can all create an interviewer effect. If there is a perceived status disparity between the interviewer and the interviewee, the results of interviews have to be interpreted with care. This is pertinent for sensitive topics such as health.

For example, if a researcher was investigating sexism amongst males, would a female interview be preferable to a male? It is possible that if a female interviewer was used, male participants might lie (i.e., pretend they are not sexist) to impress the interviewer, thus creating an interviewer effect.

Flooding interviews with researcher’s agenda

The interactional nature of interviews means the researcher fundamentally shapes the discourse, rather than just neutrally collecting it. This shapes what is talked about and how participants can respond.
  • The interviewer’s assumptions, interests, and categories don’t just shape the specific interview questions asked. They also shape the framing, task instructions, recruitment, and ongoing responses/prompts.
  • This flooding of the interview interaction with the researcher’s agenda makes it very difficult to separate out what comes from the participant vs. what is aligned with the interviewer’s concerns.
  • So the participant’s talk ends up being fundamentally shaped by the interviewer rather than being a more natural reflection of the participant’s own orientations or practices.
  • This effect is hard to avoid because interviews inherently involve the researcher setting an agenda. But it does mean the talk extracted may say more about the interview process than the reality it is supposed to reflect.

Interview Design

First, you must choose whether to use a structured or non-structured interview.

Characteristics of Interviewers

Next, you must consider who will be the interviewer, and this will depend on what type of person is being interviewed. There are several variables to consider:

  • Gender and age : This can greatly affect respondents’ answers, particularly on personal issues.
  • Personal characteristics : Some people are easier to get on with than others. Also, the interviewer’s accent and appearance (e.g., clothing) can affect the rapport between the interviewer and interviewee.
  • Language : The interviewer’s language should be appropriate to the vocabulary of the group of people being studied. For example, the researcher must change the questions’ language to match the respondents’ social background” age / educational level / social class/ethnicity, etc.
  • Ethnicity : People may have difficulty interviewing people from different ethnic groups.
  • Interviewer expertise should match research sensitivity – inexperienced students should avoid interviewing highly vulnerable groups.

Interview Location

The location of a research interview can influence the way in which the interviewer and interviewee relate and may exaggerate a power dynamic in one direction or another. It is usual to offer interviewees a choice of location as part of facilitating their comfort and encouraging participation.

However, the safety of the interviewer is an overriding consideration and, as mentioned, a minimal requirement should be that a responsible person knows where the interviewer has gone and when they are due back.

Remote Interviews

The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated remote interviewing for research continuity. However online interview platforms provide increased flexibility even under normal conditions.

They enable access to participant groups across geographical distances without travel costs or arrangements. Online interviews can be efficiently scheduled to align with researcher and interviewee availability.

There are practical considerations in setting up remote interviews. Interviewees require access to internet and an online platform such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Skype through which to connect.

Certain modifications help build initial rapport in the remote format. Allowing time at the start of the interview for casual conversation while testing audio/video quality helps participants settle in. Minor delays can disrupt turn-taking flow, so alerting participants to speak slightly slower than usual minimizes accidental interruptions.

Keeping remote interviews under an hour avoids fatigue for stare at a screen. Seeking advanced ethical clearance for verbal consent at the interview start saves participant time. Adapting to the remote context shows care for interviewees and aids rich discussion.

However, it remains important to critically reflect on how removing in-person dynamics may shape the co-created data. Perhaps some nuances of trust and disclosure differ over video.

Vulnerable Groups

The interviewer must ensure that they take special care when interviewing vulnerable groups, such as children. For example, children have a limited attention span, so lengthy interviews should be avoided.

Developing an Interview Schedule

An interview schedule is a list of pre-planned, structured questions that have been prepared, to serve as a guide for interviewers, researchers and investigators in collecting information or data about a specific topic or issue.
  • List the key themes or topics that must be covered to address your research questions. This will form the basic content.
  • Organize the content logically, such as chronologically following the interviewee’s experiences. Place more sensitive topics later in the interview.
  • Develop the list of content into actual questions and prompts. Carefully word each question – keep them open-ended, non-leading, and focused on examples.
  • Add prompts to remind you to cover areas of interest.
  • Pilot test the interview schedule to check it generates useful data and revise as needed.
  • Be prepared to refine the schedule throughout data collection as you learn which questions work better.
  • Practice skills like asking follow-up questions to get depth and detail. Stay flexible to depart from the schedule when needed.
  • Keep questions brief and clear. Avoid multi-part questions that risk confusing interviewees.
  • Listen actively during interviews to determine which pre-planned questions can be skipped based on information the participant has already provided.

The key is balancing preparation with the flexibility to adapt questions based on each interview interaction. With practice, you’ll gain skills to conduct productive interviews that obtain rich qualitative data.

The Power of Silence

Strategic use of silence is a key technique to generate interviewee-led data, but it requires judgment about appropriate timing and duration to maintain mutual understanding.
  • Unlike ordinary conversation, the interviewer aims to facilitate the interviewee’s contribution without interrupting. This often means resisting the urge to speak at the end of the interviewee’s turn construction units (TCUs).
  • Leaving a silence after a TCU encourages the interviewee to provide more material without being led by the interviewer. However, this simple technique requires confidence, as silence can feel socially awkward.
  • Allowing longer silences (e.g. 24 seconds) later in interviews can work well, but early on even short silences may disrupt rapport if they cause misalignment between speakers.
  • Silence also allows interviewees time to think before answering. Rushing to re-ask or amend questions can limit responses.
  • Blunt backchannels like “mm hm” also avoid interrupting flow. Interruptions, especially to finish an interviewee’s turn, are problematic as they make the ownership of perspectives unclear.
  • If interviewers incorrectly complete turns, an upside is it can produce extended interviewee narratives correcting the record. However, silence would have been better to let interviewees shape their own accounts.

Recording & Transcription

Design choices.

Design choices around recording and engaging closely with transcripts influence analytic insights, as well as practical feasibility. Weighing up relevant tradeoffs is key.
  • Audio recording is standard, but video better captures contextual details, which is useful for some topics/analysis approaches. Participants may find video invasive for sensitive research.
  • Digital formats enable the sharing of anonymized clips. Additional microphones reduce audio issues.
  • Doing all transcription is time-consuming. Outsourcing can save researcher effort but needs confidentiality assurances. Always carefully check outsourced transcripts.
  • Online platform auto-captioning can facilitate rapid analysis, but accuracy limitations mean full transcripts remain ideal. Software cleans up caption file formatting.
  • Verbatim transcripts best capture nuanced meaning, but the level of detail needed depends on the analysis approach. Referring back to recordings is still advisable during analysis.
  • Transcripts versus recordings highlight different interaction elements. Transcripts make overt disagreements clearer through the wording itself. Recordings better convey tone affiliativeness.

Transcribing Interviews & Focus Groups

Here are the steps for transcribing interviews:
  • Play back audio/video files to develop an overall understanding of the interview
  • Format the transcription document:
  • Add line numbers
  • Separate interviewer questions and interviewee responses
  • Use formatting like bold, italics, etc. to highlight key passages
  • Provide sentence-level clarity in the interviewee’s responses while preserving their authentic voice and word choices
  • Break longer passages into smaller paragraphs to help with coding
  • If translating the interview to another language, use qualified translators and back-translate where possible
  • Select a notation system to indicate pauses, emphasis, laughter, interruptions, etc., and adapt it as needed for your data
  • Insert screenshots, photos, or documents discussed in the interview at the relevant point in the transcript
  • Read through multiple times, revising formatting and notations
  • Double-check the accuracy of transcription against audio/videos
  • De-identify transcript by removing identifying participant details

The goal is to produce a formatted written record of the verbal interview exchange that captures the meaning and highlights important passages ready for the coding process. Careful transcription is the vital first step in analysis.

Coding Transcripts

The goal of transcription and coding is to systematically transform interview responses into a set of codes and themes that capture key concepts, experiences and beliefs expressed by participants. Taking care with transcription and coding procedures enhances the validity of qualitative analysis .
  • Read through the transcript multiple times to become immersed in the details
  • Identify manifest/obvious codes and latent/underlying meaning codes
  • Highlight insightful participant quotes that capture key concepts (in vivo codes)
  • Create a codebook to organize and define codes with examples
  • Use an iterative cycle of inductive (data-driven) coding and deductive (theory-driven) coding
  • Refine codebook with clear definitions and examples as you code more transcripts
  • Collaborate with other coders to establish the reliability of codes

Ethical Issues

Informed consent.

The participant information sheet must give potential interviewees a good idea of what is involved if taking part in the research.

This will include the general topics covered in the interview, where the interview might take place, how long it is expected to last, how it will be recorded, the ways in which participants’ anonymity will be managed, and incentives offered.

It might be considered good practice to consider true informed consent in interview research to require two distinguishable stages:

  • Consent to undertake and record the interview and
  • Consent to use the material in research after the interview has been conducted and the content known, or even after the interviewee has seen a copy of the transcript and has had a chance to remove sections, if desired.

Power and Vulnerability

  • Early feminist views that sensitivity could equalize power differences are likely naive. The interviewer and interviewee inhabit different knowledge spheres and social categories, indicating structural disparities.
  • Power fluctuates within interviews. Researchers rely on participation, yet interviewees control openness and can undermine data collection. Assumptions should be avoided.
  • Interviews on sensitive topics may feel like quasi-counseling. Interviewers must refrain from dual roles, instead supplying support service details to all participants.
  • Interviewees recruited for trauma experiences may reveal more than anticipated. While generating analytic insights, this risks leaving them feeling exposed.
  • Ultimately, power balances resist reconciliation. But reflexively analyzing operations of power serves to qualify rather than nullify situtated qualitative accounts.

Some groups, like those with mental health issues, extreme views, or criminal backgrounds, risk being discredited – treated skeptically by researchers.

This creates tensions with qualitative approaches, often having an empathetic ethos seeking to center subjective perspectives. Analysis should balance openness to offered accounts with critically examining stakes and motivations behind them.

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Interviewing Experts pp 1–13 Cite as

Introduction: Expert Interviews — An Introduction to a New Methodological Debate

  • Alexander Bogner ,
  • Beate Littig &
  • Wolfgang Menz  

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Part of the book series: Research Methods Series ((REMES))

Before we go any further, we would like to begin by providing the reader with a step-by-step introduction to the methodological debate surrounding expert interviews. In doing so, we will start with a brief discussion of the generally accepted advantages and risks of expert interviews in research practice (1). We will follow this by outlining current trends in the sociological debate regarding experts and expertise, since expert interviews are — at least on the surface — defined by their object, namely the expert (2). We will then conclude with a look at the current methodological debate regarding expert interviews, an overview of the layout and structure of this book, as well as summaries of the 12 articles it contains (3).

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Bogner, A., Littig, B., Menz, W. (2009). Introduction: Expert Interviews — An Introduction to a New Methodological Debate. In: Bogner, A., Littig, B., Menz, W. (eds) Interviewing Experts. Research Methods Series. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230244276_1

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Identifying and Avoiding Bias in Research

This narrative review provides an overview on the topic of bias as part of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery 's series of articles on evidence-based medicine. Bias can occur in the planning, data collection, analysis, and publication phases of research. Understanding research bias allows readers to critically and independently review the scientific literature and avoid treatments which are suboptimal or potentially harmful. A thorough understanding of bias and how it affects study results is essential for the practice of evidence-based medicine.

The British Medical Journal recently called evidence-based medicine (EBM) one of the fifteen most important milestones since the journal's inception 1 . The concept of EBM was created in the early 1980's as clinical practice became more data-driven and literature based 1 , 2 . EBM is now an essential part of medical school curriculum 3 . For plastic surgeons, the ability to practice EBM is limited. Too frequently, published research in plastic surgery demonstrates poor methodologic quality, although a gradual trend toward higher level study designs has been noted over the past ten years 4 , 5 . In order for EBM to be an effective tool, plastic surgeons must critically interpret study results and must also evaluate the rigor of study design and identify study biases. As the leadership of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery seeks to provide higher quality science to enhance patient safety and outcomes, a discussion of the topic of bias is essential for the journal's readers. In this paper, we will define bias and identify potential sources of bias which occur during study design, study implementation, and during data analysis and publication. We will also make recommendations on avoiding bias before, during, and after a clinical trial.

I. Definition and scope of bias

Bias is defined as any tendency which prevents unprejudiced consideration of a question 6 . In research, bias occurs when “systematic error [is] introduced into sampling or testing by selecting or encouraging one outcome or answer over others” 7 . Bias can occur at any phase of research, including study design or data collection, as well as in the process of data analysis and publication ( Figure 1 ). Bias is not a dichotomous variable. Interpretation of bias cannot be limited to a simple inquisition: is bias present or not? Instead, reviewers of the literature must consider the degree to which bias was prevented by proper study design and implementation. As some degree of bias is nearly always present in a published study, readers must also consider how bias might influence a study's conclusions 8 . Table 1 provides a summary of different types of bias, when they occur, and how they might be avoided.

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Major Sources of Bias in Clinical Research

Tips to avoid different types of bias during a trial.

Chance and confounding can be quantified and/or eliminated through proper study design and data analysis. However, only the most rigorously conducted trials can completely exclude bias as an alternate explanation for an association. Unlike random error, which results from sampling variability and which decreases as sample size increases, bias is independent of both sample size and statistical significance. Bias can cause estimates of association to be either larger or smaller than the true association. In extreme cases, bias can cause a perceived association which is directly opposite of the true association. For example, prior to 1998, multiple observational studies demonstrated that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) decreased risk of heart disease among post-menopausal women 8 , 9 . However, more recent studies, rigorously designed to minimize bias, have found the opposite effect (i.e., an increased risk of heart disease with HRT) 10 , 11 .

II. Pre-trial bias

Sources of pre-trial bias include errors in study design and in patient recruitment. These errors can cause fatal flaws in the data which cannot be compensated during data analysis. In this section, we will discuss the importance of clearly defining both risk and outcome, the necessity of standardized protocols for data collection, and the concepts of selection and channeling bias.

Bias during study design

The definition of risk and outcome should be clearly defined prior to study implementation. Subjective measures, such as the Baker grade of capsular contracture, can have high inter-rater variability and the arbitrary cutoffs may make distinguishing between groups difficult 12 . This can inflate the observed variance seen with statistical analysis, making a statistically significant result less likely. Objective, validated risk stratification models such as those published by Caprini 13 and Davison 14 for venous thromboembolism, or standardized outcomes measures such as the Breast-Q 15 should have lower inter-rater variability and are more appropriate for use. When risk or exposure is retrospectively identified via medical chart review, it is prudent to crossreference data sources for confirmation. For example, a chart reviewer should confirm a patient-reported history of sacral pressure ulcer closure with physical exam findings and by review of an operative report; this will decrease discrepancies when compared to using a single data source.

Data collection methods may include questionnaires, structured interviews, physical exam, laboratory or imaging data, or medical chart review. Standardized protocols for data collection, including training of study personnel, can minimize inter-observer variability when multiple individuals are gathering and entering data. Blinding of study personnel to the patient's exposure and outcome status, or if not possible, having different examiners measure the outcome than those who evaluated the exposure, can also decrease bias. Due to the presence of scars, patients and those directly examining them cannot be blinded to whether or not an operation was received. For comparisons of functional or aesthetic outcomes in surgical procedures, an independent examiner can be blinded to the type of surgery performed. For example, a hand surgery study comparing lag screw versus plate and screw fixation of metacarpal fractures could standardize the surgical approach (and thus the surgical scar) and have functional outcomes assessed by a blinded examiner who had not viewed the operative notes or x-rays. Blinded examiners can also review imaging and confirm diagnoses without examining patients 16 , 17 .

Selection bias

Selection bias may occur during identification of the study population. The ideal study population is clearly defined, accessible, reliable, and at increased risk to develop the outcome of interest. When a study population is identified, selection bias occurs when the criteria used to recruit and enroll patients into separate study cohorts are inherently different. This can be a particular problem with case-control and retrospective cohort studies where exposure and outcome have already occurred at the time individuals are selected for study inclusion 18 . Prospective studies (particularly randomized, controlled trials) where the outcome is unknown at time of enrollment are less prone to selection bias.

Channeling bias

Channeling bias occurs when patient prognostic factors or degree of illness dictates the study cohort into which patients are placed. This bias is more likely in non-randomized trials when patient assignment to groups is performed by medical personnel. Channeling bias is commonly seen in pharmaceutical trials comparing old and new drugs to one another 19 . In surgical studies, channeling bias can occur if one intervention carries a greater inherent risk 20 . For example, hand surgeons managing fractures may be more aggressive with operative intervention in young, healthy individuals with low perioperative risk. Similarly, surgeons might tolerate imperfect reduction in the elderly, a group at higher risk for perioperative complications and with decreased need for perfect hand function. Thus, a selection bias exists for operative intervention in young patients. Now imagine a retrospective study of operative versus non-operative management of hand fractures. In this study, young patients would be channeled into the operative study cohort and the elderly would be channeled into the nonoperative study cohort.

III. Bias during the clinical trial

Information bias is a blanket classification of error in which bias occurs in the measurement of an exposure or outcome. Thus, the information obtained and recorded from patients in different study groups is unequal in some way 18 . Many subtypes of information bias can occur, including interviewer bias, chronology bias, recall bias, patient loss to follow-up, bias from misclassification of patients, and performance bias.

Interviewer bias

Interviewer bias refers to a systematic difference between how information is solicited, recorded, or interpreted 18 , 21 . Interviewer bias is more likely when disease status is known to interviewer. An example of this would be a patient with Buerger's disease enrolled in a case control study which attempts to retrospectively identify risk factors. If the interviewer is aware that the patient has Buerger's disease, he/she may probe for risk factors, such as smoking, more extensively (“Are you sure you've never smoked? Never? Not even once?”) than in control patients. Interviewer bias can be minimized or eliminated if the interviewer is blinded to the outcome of interest or if the outcome of interest has not yet occurred, as in a prospective trial.

Chronology bias

Chronology bias occurs when historic controls are used as a comparison group for patients undergoing an intervention. Secular trends within the medical system could affect how disease is diagnosed, how treatments are administered, or how preferred outcome measures are obtained 20 . Each of these differences could act as a source of inequality between the historic controls and intervention groups. For example, many microsurgeons currently use preoperative imaging to guide perforator flap dissection. Imaging has been shown to significantly reduce operative time 40 . A retrospective study of flap dissection time might conclude that dissection time decreases as surgeon experience improves. More likely, the use of preoperative imaging caused a notable reduction in dissection time. Thus, chronology bias is present. Chronology bias can be minimized by conducting prospective cohort or randomized control trials, or by using historic controls from only the very recent past.

Recall bias

Recall bias refers to the phenomenon in which the outcomes of treatment (good or bad) may color subjects' recollections of events prior to or during the treatment process. One common example is the perceived association between autism and the MMR vaccine. This vaccine is given to children during a prominent period of language and social development. As a result, parents of children with autism are more likely to recall immunization administration during this developmental regression, and a causal relationship may be perceived 22 . Recall bias is most likely when exposure and disease status are both known at time of study, and can also be problematic when patient interviews (or subjective assessments) are used as a primary data sources. When patient-report data are used, some investigators recommend that the trial design masks the intent of questions in structured interviews or surveys and/or uses only validated scales for data acquisition 23 .

Transfer bias

In almost all clinical studies, subjects are lost to follow-up. In these instances, investigators must consider whether these patients are fundamentally different than those retained in the study. Researchers must also consider how to treat patients lost to follow-up in their analysis. Well designed trials usually have protocols in place to attempt telephone or mail contact for patients who miss clinic appointments. Transfer bias can occur when study cohorts have unequal losses to follow-up. This is particularly relevant in surgical trials when study cohorts are expected to require different follow-up regimens. Consider a study evaluating outcomes in inferior pedicle Wise pattern versus vertical scar breast reductions. Because the Wise pattern patients often have fewer contour problems in the immediate postoperative period, they may be less likely to return for long-term follow-up. By contrast, patient concerns over resolving skin redundancies in the vertical reduction group may make these individuals more likely to return for postoperative evaluations by their surgeons. Some authors suggest that patient loss to follow-up can be minimized by offering convenient office hours, personalized patient contact via phone or email, and physician visits to the patient's home 20 , 24 .

Bias from misclassification of exposure or outcome

Misclassification of exposure can occur if the exposure itself is poorly defined or if proxies of exposure are utilized. For example, this might occur in a study evaluating efficacy of becaplermin (Regranex, Systagenix Wound Management) versus saline dressings for management of diabetic foot ulcers. Significantly different results might be obtained if the becaplermin cohort of patients included those prescribed the medication, rather than patients directly observed to be applying the medication. Similarly, misclassification of outcome can occur if non-objective measures are used. For example, clinical signs and symptoms are notoriously unreliable indicators of venous thromboembolism. Patients are accurately diagnosed by physical exam less than 50% of the time 25 . Thus, using Homan's sign (calf pain elicited by extreme dorsi-flexion) or pleuritic chest pain as study measures for deep venous thrombosis or pulmonary embolus would be inappropriate. Venous thromboembolism is appropriately diagnosed using objective tests with high sensitivity and specificity, such as duplex ultrasound or spiral CT scan 26 - 28 .

Performance bias

In surgical trials, performance bias may complicate efforts to establish a cause-effect relationship between procedures and outcomes. As plastic surgeons, we are all aware that surgery is rarely standardized and that technical variability occurs between surgeons and among a single surgeon's cases. Variations by surgeon commonly occur in surgical plan, flow of operation, and technical maneuvers used to achieve the desired result. The surgeon's experience may have a significant effect on the outcome. To minimize or avoid performance bias, investigators can consider cluster stratification of patients, in which all patients having an operation by one surgeon or at one hospital are placed into the same study group, as opposed to placing individual patients into groups. This will minimize performance variability within groups and decrease performance bias. Cluster stratification of patients may allow surgeons to perform only the surgery with which they are most comfortable or experienced, providing a more valid assessment of the procedures being evaluated. If the operation in question has a steep learning curve, cluster stratification may make generalization of study results to the everyday plastic surgeon difficult.

IV. Bias after a trial

Bias after a trial's conclusion can occur during data analysis or publication. In this section, we will discuss citation bias, evaluate the role of confounding in data analysis, and provide a brief discussion of internal and external validity.

Citation bias

Citation bias refers to the fact that researchers and trial sponsors may be unwilling to publish unfavorable results, believing that such findings may negatively reflect on their personal abilities or on the efficacy of their product. Thus, positive results are more likely to be submitted for publication than negative results. Additionally, existing inequalities in the medical literature may sway clinicians' opinions of the expected trial results before or during a trial. In recognition of citation bias, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors(ICMJE) released a consensus statement in 2004 29 which required all randomized control trials to be pre-registered with an approved clinical trials registry. In 2007, a second consensus statement 30 required that all prospective trials not deemed purely observational be registered with a central clinical trials registry prior to patient enrollment. ICMJE member journals will not publish studies which are not registered in advance with one of five accepted registries. Despite these measures, citation bias has not been completely eliminated. While centralized documentation provides medical researchers with information about unpublished trials, investigators may be left to only speculate as to the results of these studies.


Confounding occurs when an observed association is due to three factors: the exposure, the outcome of interest, and a third factor which is independently associated with both the outcome of interest and the exposure 18 . Examples of confounders include observed associations between coffee drinking and heart attack (confounded by smoking) and the association between income and health status (confounded by access to care). Pre-trial study design is the preferred method to control for confounding. Prior to the study, matching patients for demographics (such as age or gender) and risk factors (such as body mass index or smoking) can create similar cohorts among identified confounders. However, the effect of unmeasured or unknown confounders may only be controlled by true randomization in a study with a large sample size. After a study's conclusion, identified confounders can be controlled by analyzing for an association between exposure and outcome only in cohorts similar for the identified confounding factor. For example, in a study comparing outcomes for various breast reconstruction options, the results might be confounded by the timing of the reconstruction (i.e., immediate versus delayed procedures). In other words, procedure type and timing may have both have significant and independent effects on breast reconstruction outcomes. One approach to this confounding would be to compare outcomes by procedure type separately for immediate and delayed reconstruction patients. This maneuver is commonly termed a “stratified” analysis. Stratified analyses are limited if multiple confounders are present or if sample size is small. Multi-variable regression analysis can also be used to control for identified confounders during data analysis. The role of unidentified confounders cannot be controlled using statistical analysis.

Internal vs. External Validity

Internal validity refers to the reliability or accuracy of the study results. A study's internal validity reflects the author's and reviewer's confidence that study design, implementation, and data analysis have minimized or eliminated bias and that the findings are representative of the true association between exposure and outcome. When evaluating studies, careful review of study methodology for sources of bias discussed above enables the reader to evaluate internal validity. Studies with high internal validity are often explanatory trials, those designed to test efficacy of a specific intervention under idealized conditions in a highly selected population. However, high internal validity often comes at the expense of ability to be generalized. For example, although supra-microsurgery techniques, defined as anastamosis of vessels less than 0.5mm-0.8mm in diameter, have been shown to be technically possible in high volume microsurgery centers 31 - 33 (high internal validity), it is unlikely that the majority of plastic surgeons could perform this operation with an acceptable rate of flap loss.

External validity of research design deals with the degree to which findings are able to be generalized to other groups or populations. In contrast with explanatory trials, pragmatic trials are designed to assess the benefits of interventions under real clinical conditions. These studies usually include study populations generated using minimal exclusion criteria, making them very similar to the general population. While pragmatic trials have high external validity, loose inclusion criteria may compromise the study's internal validity. When reviewing scientific literature, readers should assess whether the research methods preclude generalization of the study's findings to other patient populations. In making this decision, readers must consider differences between the source population (population from which the study population originated) and the study population (those included in the study). Additionally, it is important to distinguish limited ability to be generalized due to a selective patient population from true bias 8 .

When designing trials, achieving balance between internal and external validity is difficult. An ideal trial design would randomize patients and blind those collecting and analyzing data (high internal validity), while keeping exclusion criteria to a minimum, thus making study and source populations closely related and allowing generalization of results (high external validity) 34 . For those evaluating the literature, objective models exist to quantify both external and internal validity. Conceptual models to assess a study's ability to be generalized have been developed 35 . Additionally, qualitative checklists can be used to assess the external validity of clinical trials. These can be utilized by investigators to improve study design and also by those reading published studies 36 .

The importance of internal validity is reflected in the existing concept of “levels of evidence” 5 , where more rigorously designed trials produce higher levels of evidence. Such high-level studies can be evaluated using the Jadad scoring system, an established, rigorous means of assessing the methodological quality and internal validity of clinical trials 37 . Even so-called “gold-standard” RCT's can be undermined by poor study design. Like all studies, RCT's must be rigorously evaluated. Descriptions of study methods should include details on the randomization process, method(s) of blinding, treatment of incomplete outcome data, funding source(s), and include data on statistically insignificant outcomes 38 . Authors who provide incomplete trial information can create additional bias after a trial ends; readers are not able to evaluate the trial's internal and external validity 20 . The CONSORT statement 39 provides a concise 22-point checklist for authors reporting the results of RCT's. Manuscripts that conform to the CONSORT checklist will provide adequate information for readers to understand the study's methodology. As a result, readers can make independent judgments on the trial's internal and external validity.

Bias can occur in the planning, data collection, analysis, and publication phases of research. Understanding research bias allows readers to critically and independently review the scientific literature and avoid treatments which are suboptimal or potentially harmful. A thorough understanding of bias and how it affects study results is essential for the practice of evidence-based medicine.


Dr. Pannucci receives salary support from the NIH T32 grant program (T32 GM-08616).

Meeting disclosure:

This work was has not been previously presented.

None of the authors has a financial interest in any of the products, devices, or drugs mentioned in this manuscript.

This is a PDF file of an unedited manuscript that has been accepted for publication. As a service to our customers we are providing this early version of the manuscript. The manuscript will undergo copyediting, typesetting, and review of the resulting proof before it is published in its final citable form. Please note that during the production process errors may be discovered which could affect the content, and all legal disclaimers that apply to the journal pertain.


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