Always remember that discussion guides are supposed to enhance interviews. Use methods, formats, and symbols that work for the moderator or whoever else in conducting the research. Going with a full blown script is tempting, particularly if new to interviewing. If so, then avoid reading it verbatim: doing so not only ruins the interview’s flow, but can easily alienate the participant. After all, no one really appreciates the sensation they are being “talked at” rather than being included in the conversation. Dave Kreimer has a particularly useful post on his blog the Qualitative Query.
Along with formatting, include all pertinent information at the very top of the discussion guide. A schedule complete with timetables is particularly useful for busy interviewers. First, it provides a quick and easy reference in case answers become overlong. Second, it prevents time from running to a close. Spell out all elements that the interview will entail, including the objectives, stimulus, and reminders for setup requirements.
Far as the actual script, make sure there’s an introduction that explains the interview process, objectives, and expectations. Doing so emphasizes trust and inclusiveness with the participant. That mentioned, never let the intro sound too procedural. Use simple metaphor, humor, and personal introductions to inform the participant and ease them into the conversation. Above all else, of course, make sure to retain clear phrasing throughout the interview. Data sometimes includes participant interpretations, sure, but actual preference matters. A matter-of-fact question typically encourages a matter-of-fact answer.
Interviews should always include structure, but make sure to explore different avenues of input. A reactive system, particularly if interviewing multiple participants or panels, is particularly useful when tracking reactions to peripheral elements or possible changes. Of course, exploring such avenues is an opportunity cost too. Keep off-topic information from becoming the focal point, as that can quickly shift the interview anywhere. Also never force progression too directly, as it is also important for participants to explore their own tangents. The truly effective interview discussion guide provokes questions and guides discourse.
Even if a tad more time-consuming than expected, however, always make sure to also add wiggle room to include longer answers or conversational tidbits. A participants’ reaction unto itself is valuable, and seeing where their reaction goes can provide a wealth of information about their consumer habits and identity. An interview guide may be the skeleton of an IDI or focus group, but responses consist of everything else.
Trust and rapport aside, there are other critical elements to a successful interview beside the guide. Technology, for one, needs to be stable, consistent, and offer tools that augment qualitative researchers’ efforts and objectives. Panel and participant quality also matters a great deal. Of course, our bandwidth-efficient HD platform is built from the ground up to realize such needs.
Discuss.io is made by researchers for researchers. Offering the collective experience of over half a century, we bring proactive consultation that maximizes your results while minimizing turnaround time and logistical headaches. Such qualitative research goes a long way with the right discussion guide, so start prepping yours well in advance of the actual webcam session. Have more in-depth questions? Just ask. We’re happy to answer!
Zach Simmons is the Founder and president of Discuss.io. Zach has 20 years of experience building software. Prior to founding Discuss.io, he was the Technical Product Manager for Amazon Web Services (S3) where he ran the team that built the infrastructure that now powers a significant percentage of the modern Internet. Zach holds an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
An entrepreneurial leader, Zach is passionate about building disruptive and agile SaaS based market research startups as an alternative to traditional market research. Seeing a need for change within the Industry, Zach launched Discuss.io, bringing Market Research to the digital age.