The Interview Process

The researcher is interested in gaining a rich and inclusive account of the participant’s experience. Often, the initial descriptions offered by the participant are restrained. They reflect concerns of the participant about the acceptableness of the answers, a testing of what they want to reveal, or the surface of a remembered experience. Too often, interview-produced data contain only initial reflections of participants without explorations into the depth and breadth of the experience. In order to obtain interview data of sufficient quality to produce worthwhile findings, researchers need to engage with participants in more than a one-shot, 1-hr session; they need to attend to establishing a trusting, open relationship with the participant and to focus on the meaning of the participant’s life experiences rather than on the accuracy of his or her recall.

The typical qualitative interview has been a one-shot occurrence lasting about 1 hr. However, one-shot interviews are most often not sufficient to produce the full and rich descriptions necessary for worthwhile findings. Seidman has suggested that a sequence of three interviews with a participant is more likely to produce accounts of sufficient depth and breadth. He has suggested that the focus of the first interview be on getting acquainted, developing rapport, laying out the area that the researcher would like the interviewee to explore, and trying some initial forays into the topic. Between the first and second interview, the participant will have had time to think more deeply about the experience, and, thus, the second interview should be more focused and should allow time to explore the experience in depth. Before the third interview, the researcher reviews the transcript of the first two interviews. In the third interview, the researcher asks follow-up questions to fill in and to clarify the account, and the participant can add newly remembered information. Quality interview data usually involves multiple sessions with participants, including follow-up interviews to clarify and expand participant descriptions during the analytic process.

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