Designing, Using, and Evolving Qualitative Interview and Focus Group Guides

Interview/focus group guides are tools for prompting people to share their stories and perspectives on particular topics. This course will position you to develop an active posture toward initial development of an interview/focus group guide and prepare you to engage actively and evolve the fit of your guide to what you experience and learn in the field.

The eight strategies listed here will serve as an action plan to accomplish this goal:

  1. Aligning
  2. Following
  3. Preparing
  4. Shifting/adjusting
  5. Opening
  6. Closing
  7. Asking
  8. Processing

Aligning: What is the overall point of the interview or focus group? How do the questions in your interview/focus group guide assist you in achieving project goals?

Preparing: Who are your participants? How does knowledge of the participants inform questioning format and approach? How do you ensure (e.g., through pilot testing, think-aloud methods) that the questions you develop are relevant and aligned with project goals? How do you foster a sense of ownership for participants in the data collection experience?

Opening: What are ways to open the conversation appropriately and comfortably?

Asking: What do you ask participants when and why? What questions open conversation topics? When and how do you probe and ask for further detail and example?

Following: How do you manage the conversation in a way that allows you to follow your participants’ unfolding narratives while keeping them interested and involved in their own story telling?

Shifting/adjusting: When and why do you make adjustments to the interview or focus group? How can you shift your approach, language, and direction on the spot as you listen to people’s unfolding narratives?

Closing: How can you naturally and affirmatively reach the conclusion of the data collection episode?

Processing: How do you track and understand the evolution of your interview/focus group guide and process the meanings these changes have for your project?

Employing these strategies through the life of your project will enhance the quality of the data you collect. This practice will also help you to understand how the conversations occurring during data collection fit what is currently known about, and practiced in, your field.