This blog will look into holding interviews as a dissertation research method. Many students choose to hold interviews to collect primary data for their research. This blog should help students collect good data. A Dissertation Interview is one type of research method. Dissertation Interviews can be combined with case studies, and/or questionnaires in your research. Holding dissertation interviews has important ethical considerations.
Who to Interview
“How many interviews are needed?” is a frequent question from students. I use this example:
If my research was to establish the strategy for a particular company I might need to interview:
- 50 shop-floor employees – and I probably wouldn’t get a good answer!
- 10 managers – who between them might come up with nearly the exact wording. (I may have to interpret the result)
- 3 senior mangers – who may say exactly the same and correct thing
- 1 CEO – who wrote the strategy!
In short – you want to interview experts. The literature review shows that you are a master of knowledge in your topic area. Collecting data is showing that you have seen an application of this knowledge by practitioners. It is best to collect data from experts in the field – those with experience at applying the knowledge.
One suggestion is to find a topic expert from a professional body to interview. You could use LinkedIn to try and identify such an expert. This type of interview can compliment interviews within a case study company.
Types of Interview
The research methodology chapter should mention the type of interview to be use.
- Structured. You will ask a set of questions carefully thought out beforehand. If a question cannot be answered, the respondent will move onto the next question without discussion.
- Semi Structured. You will ask a set of questions prepared beforehand. If a question cannot be answered, you can explain your reasons for asking the question or clarify the question in order to assist with gaining a comment.
- Unstructured. There will be no prepared questions. After introductions you could simply say “Tell me about….”.You could also show some sort of model or concept for the interviewee to comment on.
Structured interviews can be quick to gather information. They also ask all people the same set of questions. This will assist repeatability. Unstructured interviews can gain a deeper insight into the thoughts of the interviewee.
You need to explain how and why the particular interviewees were chosen.
Preparing to Interview
The questions should arise from the Literature Review. In the case of the structured interview the exact reasons for asking each question needs to be established. It is a good idea to test the interview questions for clarity on a fellow student:
- Are the questions clear?
- Are they interpreted correctly?
- Can the answers be analysed?
Spending time getting the questions correct will lead to better research.
Holding the Interview
For face-to-face or virtual interviews:
- Be prompt – but be patient and be prepared to wait for the interviewee
- Politeness costs nothing. The interviewee does not have to give up their time
- Be prepared with copies of the questions, paper for taking notes, or recording systems
- Have a copy of the participant information leaflet and consent forms ready for signatures
- Respect the interviewees time
- Don’t just ask your research questions, set a context for the interviewee with some background questions.
Being prepared helps you to appear professional and organised. The interviewee is more likely to spend time with you.
Interview Writing Up
Once the interview data is collected, the results need to be written up. I am a firm believer of every chapter in the dissertation having a single purpose. Therefore I suggest:
- Full interview transcripts can be placed in the appendix if desired
- Results Chapter: State the number of interviews held, dates held, and positions of the interviewees. This is where you may want to establish the ‘expertise’ of the interviewees. Results from each question could be presented in a tabular format.
- Analysis Chapter: Interview questions can be analysed using content analysis. It may be sufficient to compare answers for the same questions, and to cross reference the academic theory.
- Save any discussion for the discussion chapter.
Imperfections in the interviews need to be reported. These can actually help the discussion chapter, and provide information for the recommendations and further work sections.
Collecting primary data via interviews can be supplemented with using a case study.
Interviews take time to prepare and write up. Showing a comprehensive understandings of the interview process will help gain a better dissertation mark!