Interviewing: What Am I Getting Out of This?

What’s the probably the best part of being a sociologist? Anyone guess it? It’s talking to other people! Although that may not excite many… A lot of our research consists of observations and looking for important information in books, yet a HUGE chunk our work is also made up of interviews. Interviewing is one of the best ways to interact and learn from people whom you are interested in helping. In order to get down to the main source of the problem, we sociologist (and this can include everyone and anyone as well) need to step out into the field and talk to people. This is so that we, as the interviewers, can collect all the information and data necessary in order to piece together what issues people are facing on a daily basis.


Having that said, before we begin interviewing people, here are some tips and suggestions to keep in mind:

    1. Create an order of questions & ideas to ask your interviewee(s). (Organizational purposes & helps keep you focused!)
    2. Use words and phrases that are easy to understand & hear. (That way it is easier to answer rather than give a full explanation that could take away from meaning/purpose of the question.)
    3. No leading questions. (Leading questions: question that prompts or encourages the desired answer, takes focus away from the facts.)
    4. Ask about your interviewee’s “factsheets.” (Basic information like name, age, workplace, etc.)
    5. Familiarize yourself with the environment, work, and lifestyle of your interviewees. (Don’t go into an interview blindly, know your facts!)
    6. Be prepared to answer some questions about your motives. (Just like you, people will be curious to know why you are asking/interviewing.)
    7. Have a good-quality recording device. (Will be helpful in the future when trying to remember certain details!)
    8. Pick a private, quiet area to conduct your interview. (Helps keep interviewer & interviewee stay focused.)
    9. Be a good, active listener. (Make sure you’re paying attention! Ask or rephrase something if you are confused and or lost.)
    10. Be prepared for the unexpected. (Depending on the interview, some questions may trigger an unexpected emotional response.)

Is one-on-one interviewing the only way to collect information for interested research topic?

No! Another beauty about conducting interviews is that the interviewer can use what’s called a “focus group” as a strategy to learn more about others. Focus groups are consisted of 2 or more people who are willing to be interviewed at the same time. The purposes of this is not only for the interviewer to collect more information; it also helps them get a chance to look at how others socially interact with others, what the reactions and emotions towards other’s answers appear to be at those moments, and also gives the interviewees a chance to challenge each other and their answers (this is where tip #10 comes in!)

Example: Jada Pickett-Smith’s Red Table Talk show that is featured on Facebook. Jada, along with her daughter and mother, all get together on a big, red round table to discuss social issues that have been recently going on or have had happened. Jada is the main facilitator of the conversation or interview during an episode but she is a great example of how interviews should be conducted. She follows the tips I have previously suggested above, whether it’s during a one-on-one or focus group type of interview. Highly recommend watching it just to get a better picture of how interviews are done!


Aside from interviews, there are many other ways to collect and analyze the information given. For example, conversation analysis, it can be considered as an informal interview or a naturally occurring social situation. This type of analysis is more natural, easy flowing conversation with others that make it less tense for everyone. These types of interactions that can be considered as conversation analysis may come from a simple conversation in the break-room, classroom, lobby, etc. The issue with this is when you have to separate the facts and opinions that were collected from that conversation. 


Remember, no matter how you collect information whether its through one-on-one interviewing, focus groups, or conversation analysis, always look back at the tips suggested. This may help you keep you on track with what your research question or interests are and find the facts necessary to answer your questions.



What helps you prepare when conducting an interview or just to have a general conversation with people?

Do you find the tips beneficial for interviewing purposes?

What do you think is a difficult task when conducting an interview?