Good questions to ask while interviewing

In this six blog post series, we cover the best practices in interviewing, from preparation, to analysis. The following is the third blog post, asking the best interview questions.

Table of Contents

  1. An Introduction to Research Interviews
  2. Interview Sampling: How do I find people to interview?
  3. Good questions to ask while interviewing (You are here)
  4. Interview techniques and how to record interviews
  5. Transcription: How to transcribe interviews?
  6. How to analyze qualitative interviews?

Prepare Interview Guidelines: How do I prepare for an interview?

The most essential preparation for the interviews is finding the right questions to ask.

What kind of questions will give the most detailed data?

In a nutshell, the best questions are;

  1. Plain in language and easy to understand
  2. The ones asking only one question, rather than two or more questions lumped into together
  3. Neutrally framed-not leading the interviewee in any direction,
  4. Socially and culturally appropriate
  5. Logically ordered- one should lead to the other, and all of them should be related to the main research question.

To be more specific, we will dig deeper into the different types of questions;

1. Closed Questions

If a question can only have one single answer, then it is a closed question.

Examples are;

  • Do you like working here?
  • Do you use Google maps or Apple maps for navigation?

Closed questions are helpful if you are targeting an accurate and brief answer. They can be used together with open-ended questions. However, using closed ended questions frequently in an interview may hinder getting more detailed answers.

2. Open Questions

This is the most common type of question in the interviews as they generate detailed and out-of-box answers.

Asking "How do you feel about working here" rather than saying "Do you like working here?" is likely to generate more diverse and longer responses.

3. Leading Questions

Leading questions are the ones that lead your participant to one specific answer. These type of questions are the ones a good interviewer should avoid.

  • Do you think Maths is difficult?
  • Shouldn't teachers grade students more generously?

These questions apart from directing a question, express an opinion of their own, that mathematics are difficult and teachers should do a better job in grading. As a result they lead the interviewee to agree with those opinions.

As part of a good preparation practice, one should notice the leading questions and rephrase them in neutral ways:

  • What do you think about the difficulty level of Maths?
  • Is there anything you would change in teachers' grading schemes?

These are neutrally worded versions of the exact same questions, however they are more likely to generate unbiased and free opinion of the participants.

4. Single Questions

Single questions are the ones that include only one question.

It is a common mistakes by researchers to gather more than one question and ask at once.

"What do you think about the current government and why do you think that?" is an example of two questions merged into one and asked back to back.

If you detect double questions in your questionnaire, you should split them into two and ask one by one; "What do you think about the current government?" and "Why do you think that?"

Top Tips for Preparation

  1. Once you prepare an interview questionnaire, make sure that the questions are in logical order. Questions on similar topics should be placed together to help the conversation flow naturally.
  2. Prepare some follow-up questions beforehand.
  3. You can prepare alternative ways of asking the same questions, in case the concepts are not familiar to the interviewee.
  4. Start with more simple and straightforward questions as these will put the interviewee at ease and kick start a natural conversation.
  5. Before you start interviewing, it is very beneficial to hold a mock or pilot interview with friends or family. This pilot practice will make sure the questions are understandable and give you a good practice.

After getting the necessary preparations done, next step is to conduct the interview. For a comprehensive guide on interview techniques and recording interviews, check out our next blog post: Interview Techniques and How to Record Interviews.

Ece Kural's profile picture

Ece Kural

PhD Candidate @ Stockholm University