The Art of the Long Interview

We use the 'long interview' qualitative research technique in our research when we want the people we are talking to to think and not just tell us the first thing that comes to mind.

Here are some tips on how to conduct long qualitative interviews.

What is a ‘long interview’?   A long interview is a one-on-one interview that takes at least an hour and is conversational in style.  Some IDI’s (individual in-depth interviews) fall into the ‘long interview’ category, but only if they are conversational and – it has to be said – long.

How do you make an interview conversational?

The must-haves for a conversational interview are:

1. Equality 

The person being interviewed should feel that they are the equal of the interviewer. They are not there to be interrogated or ‘mined’. 

  • The way the room is laid out and the design of chairs and tables are crucial to conveying this message. 

  • The interviewer should interrupt as little as possible – ideally never  because interruptions create a power imbalance. What do people who feel powerless in a conversation do? They talk less. 

2. Open-ness

  • The more the interviewer explains what is expected of the other person – the more open they are about the intent of the interview  the more they will be trusted and the more the other person will ‘open up’. 

  • The interviewer’s body language should be open and forward-leaning, signifying that they are ready to listen to the other person’s point of view. 

3. Interviewing expertise  

  • Early questions set the scene and get the participant used to hearing their own voice.  The interviewer’s role early on is to show the other person that what they are saying is valuable – even when it isn’t. This is to give them the confidence to talk to you. You ask, they answer. 

  • You might ask for more information at this point with a ‘that’s interesting, can you tell me more about ...’.  If you are totally puzzled and think that the two of you are talking about completely different things, now is a good time to correct that. Otherwise, leave your clarifying questions until later, so you don’t interrupt their train of thought.

  • Once the interview has settled into a rhythm, you can clarify ‘I just want to come back to the point you made about .... I am not sure I understood. Can you explain?’ 

  • Now everything is clear, it is time to make them think! A Uni lecturer of mine used to talk about ‘rehearsing commonplaces’. He meant saying what everyone says. The art of the long interview is gently making sure that the participant does not ‘rehearse commonplaces’. One great way to do that is the ‘difference’ question. Perhaps they have surprised you by insisting that the product you are interested in is great for weekends. You could ask a simple ‘why’ question here but you will probably get more insight if you asked ‘what would be the difference between using it at weekends and using it during the week?’ Try some role play: ‘Imagine it is the weekend and I am about to use this product. Where am I?  What mood am in? What happens next?’  Now you can ask why.

If you would like to talk to us about how the long interview would suit your research objectives, contact Sue.


Tags: Qualitative Research

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