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Conducting Field Interviews

A guide meant for those enrolled in seated DEC300 courses and need to conduct field interviews for their research project.

Selecting an Interview Candidate

To conduct a field interview, you want to select a credible individual on the topic you are researching.  This is crucial in getting reliable information because your interviewee serves as a source that you will be "citing" in your work.  It is recommended to choose an individual who possesses any of the following qualities:

  • Expertise in the field in which you are researching.
  • A record of publishing scholarly content about your research topic.
  • Personal experience with the research topic.
  • Willingness to share their experiences and expertise with others.

Once you have identified your candidate, you will need to contact them about your plans to interview them.  If you do not know them personally, you will want to address them politely and explain why you chose to interview them.  This includes explaining your research topic and how their information will be used.  If the candidate agrees to be interviewed, you can move on to the next steps.

Conducting The Interview

Because field interviews require someone else's time, it is very important that you prepare well out of respect for the participant's time.  There are several steps you can take to make sure you conduct a successful field interview:

  • Clarify your research question so you understand what you are trying to gain from the field interview.
  • Prepare a set of interview questions, but you may not use all of them (especially if it is an unstructured interview).
  • Keep your language as neutral as possible.  You do not want to unintentionally sway the participant's answers.
  • Record the respondent's answers on paper or record the conversation audio.  This will allow you to listen to the interview after the fact and gather information you may have missed.  If you are recording their responses on paper, you may benefit from viewing our note-taking strategies guide below.  Make sure to get permission from the participant to be recorded first!

It is normal to feel a little nervous before the interview because you will be leading the conversation.  It is important to remain relax and composed throughout the interview so that you get the information you need.

Interview Tips

The following are some tips that can help you conduct a successful field interview:

  • Create an incentive for the participant to take part in your interview, as this may motivate them to take it seriously.
  • Use an audio recorder to record the interview for future reference, as it can be difficult to manually record and remember all relevant information.
  • Arrive to the interview early so you can set up anything needed for the interview (recording equipment, etc.).
  • For virtual interviews, make sure your microphone and webcam are functioning properly.
  • Introduce yourself and the interview topic at the beginning before jumping into questions.
  • Make sure your questions are unbiased and do not influence the participant's answers.  Do not include your personal opinions in the interview unless it is appropriate to do so.
  • Be patient with the interviewee, especially if you are discussing a sensitive subject.
  • Be respectful of the interviewee by not prying for details if they do not want to share specific information.
  • Thank the interviewee for their time upon concluding the interview.

The following research guides may assist you in crafting interview questions and preparing for the interview: