We’re back with another exclusive commentary, this time from Andrew Travers — author of A Pocket Guide to Interviewing for research. Andrew has took some time out to delve deeper into some key parts of the book, giving you a peek behind the scenes at each. Check it out.
create a rhythm and flow to your interview, but don’t be afraid to deviate from it and circle around the topic areas as suits the interviewee’s conversational style. Let the interaction between you and your interview find its natural course. How you structure your interview will be influenced by where your research comes from, whether you are engaged in testing a previously established proposition or hypothesis, or using the research process itself to establish one.
For me, this is partly about managing your time well, but mostly about confidence and experience. The more comfortable you get with allowing interviewees to elaborate, while remembering you’ll need to bring them back, the more you open up opportunities for the interviewee to take you to places you perhaps hadn’t considered and uncover insights a more rigid format wouldn’t have allowed.
When speaking to others, it’s natural to want them to like us, but a research interview isn’t the place to do it. When responding effusively to an interviewee – “That’s great!” – you risk inadvertently drawing the interviewee into saying what they think you want to hear. It’s difficult to resist but try to position yourself as neutral and naive, an outsider filled with curiosity.
Whether you’re new to research or not, I don’t underestimate how difficult it can be to keep your distance but maintain empathy. But just as we reassure participants in usability testing that no-one’s feelings will be hurt by their feedback, so we must let interviewees tell their story, their way. We’re there to observe, not judge.
Good listening as an interviewer isn’t just about hearing what the interviewee is saying. It’s about understanding why, observing how they are saying it. It’s about thinking about what might need further clarification, anticipating what follows on from their response (rather than your previous question).
Before you interview, think about how the information you gather is going to be used. If you (or your client) aren’t going to watch hours of video footage, don’t spend your time – and their budget – videoing the interview. Projects are different, teams are different, and what they need is different – don’t rush to assume one audience type needs one format. The right format is the one that’s right for the team you deliver to.
Often, the problems that I’ve seen with research delivered by third parties can be found right here. Tired, set formats, over-engineered slide decks and bound reports aimed at those who commissioned the research rather than those required to act on it. When setting up your research, determining who it’s ultimately there to inform is critical (and not always easy).
quotes are only ever part of the story and a partial retelling of an interview. Like live-tweeting a conference talk, quotes are a useful hook but they lack context and can obscure and even confuse the wider meaning. An interview isn’t a competition for most eloquent interviewee, but too often this is exactly what happens – we gravitate towards the people who are most quotable. They aren’t always the most insightful
There’s a tension here between the undoubted power of the soundbite and the need to tell the fuller story, and an onus on us to tell that story in a compelling way. But there’s a note to be made here about honesty, too. About the importance of reflecting what we were heard, not just what we wanted to hear. Interviews can challenge our preconceptions as much as those of our clients. We need confidence to share that with our clients.