How to frame interview questions for a qualitative study?

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.

These are a set of predetermined questions that enables the researcher to explore people’s perspective about a phenomenon to study their behaviour. Interview questions are generally designed differently depending on the need of being 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 a topic in a specific order. For example, take a case to examine the opinion of supply chain managers regarding supplier evaluation in the manufacturing industry. Since the traits of all companies in the manufacturing industry are more or less the same, the interview questions will also remain the same.

Semi-structured interview questions

They contain a combination of predetermined and unplanned questions. Initial questions are same for all the participants, however as the interview progresses, the interviewer can change them depending upon the participant’s answers. This kind of questions is helpful when there is a need to collect in-depth information. For example, to understand the difference between online shopping behaviour of Gen Z (individuals aged up to 22 years) and millennials (ages 23-37 years) semi-structured questions are helpful.

Unstructured interview questions

These questions do not have any specific guidelines or a predetermined list of questions. Questions are majorly different for all participants. These questions are generally used to engage the respondent in an open, informal and spontaneous discussion. For example, to understand how polluted water has affected people of different professions in an area, the interview questions will depend upon the profession type.

Assumptions for framing interview questions

The way questions are framed typically influences people’s responses. Therefore, the proper framing of a question is very important. The researcher must focus on how important issues are presented or framed. The following basic assumptions should be considered while framing the interview questions.

  1. All questions should be linked to the research objective and aim. One may already have about the responses to from the questions. But previous studies conducted on the same topic can be helpful. Doing so can give 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.
  2. Culture and language should also be considered in which the question is to be presented. It should be in a way that the respondents understand and interpret it. Like involving the local names for socio-economic characteristics, biophysical characteristics, lands or customs in the questions.
  3. The questions framed should be clear, simple and specific. For example, asking questions such as “where do you normally seek treatment when your child falls ill?” can be perceived differently by different respondents. Illness can include many different types of health problems, the word ‘where’ can be understood as a physical location or the type of practitioner. This can certainly affect the respondent’s 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 frame the larger research question of the study. Thus, gaining knowledge of the concepts relevant to the research questions is important.
  2. Next, mention the word question so that the respondent is motivated to answer question completely. The researcher should ask “how” questions rather than questions related to “why”. Develop the probes so that elicit results can be developed.
  3. Focus on the logical flow of the interview i.e. what topic should come first. This may involve 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.

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.


  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

Research consultant at Project Guru
Ashni is a master of Economics from Amity University. She has been an active
member of Enactus and has participated in the 12th sustainability summit. She was also associated with the YES Foundation during her master’s programme. Apart from her interest in research, she has a keen interest in music and
reading fiction.
Ashni Walia