Preparing Questions for a Qualitative Research Interview

Oct 13, 2011 | Qualitative Research | 5 comments

Getting ready to conduct a qualitative research interview? Here are some tips to help you prepare the questions:

Decide What Information You Need

Think of Patton’s 6 types of questions related to:

  1. Behavior or experience.
  2. Opinion or belief.
  3. Feelings.
  4. Knowledge.
  5. Sensory.
  6. Background or demographic.

Based on this list, write down the information you’d like to collect through the interview.

Do Background Research on the Interviewee

A little research on the background and experiences of the person you’re going to interview can go a long way in helping you frame the right questions and guide the interview. Look up the person on Google, check where they’ve lived and worked, find out about their interests and activities, books they may have written, etc.

Use Open-Ended Questions

Avoid using ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions like ‘Did you like working at [xxx]’ or ‘How many people were there at the time’ etc. Instead, use open-ended questions that allow the interviewee to share their experience in depth, giving them freedom to express their thoughts. Some open-ended research questions examples: “How do you feel about working at [xxx] during your initial years there?” “Can you describe the attitudes and approach to work of the other people working with you at the time?” “Tell me more about your relationship with your peers”.

Go from Unstructured to Structured Questions

Unstructured questions allow the interviewee to guide the conversation, letting them focus on what they think is most important. These questions usually increase the length of the interview, but also provide richer and deeper insight. Examples of unstructured research questions, “Tell me about your experience working at [xxx].” “What did it feel like to live in that neighborhood?” “What stood out to you as the defining characteristic of that neighborhood?” Structured questions lead the interviewee to provide specific information pertinent to you research. These questions can be repeated in every interview and allow you compare responses of all interviewees. For example, “What are some ways people dealt with the health issues caused by excessive chemical industries in the neighborhood?” “As an employee at [xxx] during the time, did you observe any specific actions taken by the employers to address the issue?”


Probing questions are used to get more information about an answer or clarify something. Some probing questions for qualitative research interviews can be: “Tell me more about that.” “And how did you feel about that?” “What do you mean when you say [xxx]?”

Leave Room for a General Question in the End

The last question should allow the interviewee to share any thoughts or opinions that they feel the need to talk about, such as “Thank you for all that valuable information, is there anything else you’d like to add before we end?” Carry your list of questions to the interview and use them for reference as the interview proceeds but don’t share the list with the interviewee because that would make the interview too formal.


You may have to digress from the list from time to time when a new idea or question comes to your mind but always return to the list to make sure you gather all the necessary information. Oh and don’t forget to carry a good voice recorder!

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