How to frame interview questions for a qualitative study?

An interview is one of the qualitative research techniques that involve intensive interactions between the participant and the researcher. A set of open-ended questions act as a basis on which the interview is conducted. An interview is one of the qualitative research techniques which involves intensive interactions between the respondents and the researcher.

They are conducted on the basis of interview questions. These include a set of predetermined questions that enable the researcher to gather information, explore perspectives about an idea and understand the story behind the participants’ experience. Interview questions are designed differently, depending on the needs to be addressed and the information required. They are usually grouped into three types:

  1. structured,
  2. semi-structured and,
  3. unstructured.

Structured interview questions

These are a set of standard and predetermined questions about the research topic. The main purpose of structured interview questions is to record different participants’ reactions to the same questions. This makes it easier for the researcher to compare the findings of the data collected. Questions are normally written in detail so that they can be used verbatim during the interviews.

Semi-structured interview questions

Here the interviewer prepares an interview guide that can describe the topics that will be explored during the interview. As such, some questions are pre-decided for all participants, however, the actual questions are not. Thus, the interviewer has the freedom to word their questions spontaneously according to the situation and thus explore the topic in more details.

Unstructured interview questions

These questions do not have any specific guidelines or a list of options. These questions are generally used to engage the respondent in an open, informal and spontaneous discussion.

However, the present article will focus on how the structured interview questions are framed.

Assumptions for framing interview questions

The way questions are framed typically influences the people responses thus, the proper framing of the question is very important. The researcher must, therefore, keep certain basic assumptions in mind before framing the interview questions, which are as follows.

Grasp on theory

The first thing that the researcher should keep in mind is to link questions to the research objective and aim. One may already have an idea what kind of information they want to obtain through their questions, but for better framing of the question, additional help can be taken from the previous studies conducted on the same topic. Thus, the questions framed should have a good grasp of the study objective. This will enable probing to elicit the right data required and hence ensure that all the relevant issues are covered.

Open-ended

An effective interview questionnaire will be one that gives the respondents a wide berth to answer the questions. This means that the researcher should avoid writing the yes-no questions and the respondents should not be given a set of answers from which they can respond. On the other hand, it is better to start with the questions that begin with the interrogative pronouns like who, when, where, what etc. this makes it possible for the respondent to answer in a variety of ways.

Applicability

Good interview questions are those that are tailored according to the respondent. For example, it becomes frustrating for the respondent if they don’t have the answer to the questions. The researcher has to be sure in advance regarding the people he or she is interviewing have the knowledge and the experience to answer those questions.

Simplicity and clarity

The questions framed must be clear, simple and specific. For example, asking questions such as “where do you normally seek treatment when your child falls ill?” this question can be perceived by different respondent in different ways for example ‘illness’ can include many different type of health problems, the word ‘where’ can be understood as physical location or the type of practitioner. This can certainly affect the respondent answer. To overcome this issue, it is best recommended to specify the question in clear, short and simple language like breaking the question in small pieces.

Steps for framing interview questions for a qualitative study

  1. The first step involved in framing the questions is to write down the larger research question of the study. The researcher first must develop the questions within each of these major areas. The questions should address the objectives of the study, also taking into consideration the expected length of each interview.
  2. The researcher should start with “warmup” questions such as demographic parameters (name, age, gender, region, etc.), which the respondents can answer easily. This initial rapport building will work towards putting the interviewee at more ease, thus helping the rest of the interview to flow more smoothly.
  3. Next, the researcher can move ahead with some general questions in order to break the ice and simultaneously getting the feel for the candidate’s background. Discussing this in the interview can give you an opportunity to ask the follow-up questions and hence build a clearer picture.
  4. The researcher should focus on the logical flow of the interview i.e. what topic should come first, what flows naturally etc. this may involve a certain adjustment in the interview questions. Difficult questions should be kept at the end of the interview. Moreover, the last question should provide some closure to the interview and leave the respondent empowered, or otherwise glad that they talked to you.

An example case of interview questions for a qualitative study

Considering a study that aims to find out the role of education and training in the success of the hotel industry. The study also examines the demand-supply dynamics and project a quantified annual demand of trained manpower in different categories. For fulfilling the aim, the following questions can be framed to target the professors of the hotel management institutes.

Demographics

  1. What is the approximate number of students admitted annually under different courses?
  2. What is your idea on the number of students passing out annually under the different courses?
  3. Is there a provision of campus placement?
  4. What is your approximate idea on the number of students selected in the campus placement under the different courses?
  5. What proportion (in %age terms) of students opt out of hotel industry? Can the reason for opting out be monitored?
  6. Considering the rapid growth in Hotels, Restaurants, Flight Kitchens, Banquet business and other allied Industries, do you consider, in your view that the Graduating student strength matches with the Industry requirement or there remains a shortage of skilled manpower. 
  7. Would you be able to roughly quantify the gap in %age terms?
  8. In your view what considered steps should be taken by the regulatory authorities to bridge this gap?

Role & contribution of the institutes in the hotel industry

  • What key skills and qualities do you ensure to develop to make your pupil eligible as a resource to the industry. Given the dynamic & competitive environment into purview?
  • Are the student population able to fulfil those quality expectations? In what percentage?
  • What are the policies your institute follows to provide quality education?
  • What factors do you take into consideration to formulate those policies? Are these policies regularly updated as per the changes and demand in the global market?
  • Do the education skills gained by students enable them to secure employment in other sectors of the Hotel industry, like a hospital, industrial and outdoor catering, events, conventions, banquets, airlines, cruise lines, railways and defence catering? What %age of students opts to join these allied Industries?
  • Is the Institute able to cater to the demand of the hotel industry? How?
  • If there is a shortfall, what should be the steps taken by the Government/ Hotel Industry to fulfil the gap?
  • Does your Institute interact with Industry experts while formulating the course syllabus for studies? If no, any reasons thereof?

Challenges & prospects

  1. What various challenges do you face while imparting quality education to cater to the manpower demands of the industry along with maintaining pace with global standards? In terms of:
    • Pupil?
    • Infrastructure?
    • Industry (Unorganized/organized hotels)?
    • Government policies?
  2. Reflect on some future prospects in terms of quality building in training and education and, recommendations for other institutes.
Ashni Walia
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