Creating Interview Questions: Tips
- Think of the interchange as a “structured conversation” with someone whose story you are interested in learning, rather than as a formal “interview.”
- In general, there are three parts to a profile interview:
- A brief background – Where are you from? Where did you go to school or work previously? Who or what were key influences in your life related to the work you’re doing now?
- The case – This constitutes the bulk of the interview. Ask about how they worked on the case. How did they respond to difficulties? How did they deal with confusion or conflict or threats or emotion or whatever they tell you was daunting?
- Reflections – Leave yourself 10-15 minutes to ask them to look back on their work. Were there critical moments? Tough spots? Surprises? Lessons? Puzzles that they’re left with?
- Think carefully about what you want. Do you want their theories and speculations about subject X or do you want to know what they try to do about or have done about subject X? (In creating practitioner profiles, we are concentrating upon the latter!). If you were trying to learn about the former – theories and speculations – you could ask, “what do you think about X….?” But if you want to know the latter – what they do or have done – you need to ask, “how do you handle (how have you handled) X…?” or “how do you do (how did you do) X…?” These two different approaches to questioning yield very different results.
- For this reason, ask “how” the interviewee did something, not “why.” When people tell you “why,” they will generally give you a reason for their behavior instead of telling you what they tried to do. "Why" questions can also make people defensive. But when they tell you “how,” they are telling you what they did – and in the process, will often answer the “why” question as well. (For examples of creating “how” questions, see a student draft of questions with comments from Professor Forester.
- Watch out for emotionally charged “trigger words.” Saying that you are interested in “ethics” is almost certain to prevent you from learning about their actions. Saying you are interested in learning about their real actions – and asking about those actions – will let you learn about ethics indirectly.
- If you have evaluative purposes, think carefully about the data you need. If you’re interested in whether someone is a good teacher, organizer, planner, etc., asking someone “Is she a good teacher/organizer/planner…?” may just give you a summary opinion – and not necessarily even a fully honest one. But if you ask, “How does she handle X, Y, Z …?” (where X, Y, and Z are relevant to evaluating someone’s work), you will get much more relevant information.
- Arrange your questions so that the easier topics some first. This allows rapport to be built. At the same time, make sure your most important questions are not so late in the interview that they will be lost if the interview is cut short.
- Type up your questions ahead of time, but remember, these questions are a guide. While the conversation should flow according to the three main sections of a profile interview (background first, then the practice story, then reflections), the questions within each section may not be asked in the order you have them listed. Rather, your questions should follow the flow of the conversation as naturally as possible.
See also the sample interview guide used by Scott Peters and his students.