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How do I do a good interview?



  • Approach to persons to be interviewed

It is important to approach the person to be interviewed in such a way as to increase the motivation to be interviewed. A good preliminary interview contributes to this. During this first contact, information can be provided about the purpose of the interview and the expectations of the person to be interviewed can be mapped out.


  • Good communication about the research questions and the project, the expectations and the further process with the interviewees

The interview will benefit from knowing in advance what kind of questions to expect and what will happen with the content of the interview. It is essential that information is provided in advance about privacy and how it is safeguarded within the project.


  • Choice of interview setting and location

The interview is best conducted in an environment in which the interviewee feels as comfortable as possible. This can be the interviewee’s home, but also any other place indicated by the interviewee. The preference is for the interviewee’s home, provided it is quiet and allows for uninterrupted interviews.


  • Establishing trust

A good match between the interviewer and interviewee is important for the quality of the interview. The interviewee must be eager to tell his or her story to the interviewer, for which trust is important. A good preliminary interview contributes to this. The interviewer’s attitude must be based on a high degree of empathy and a visible interest in the interviewee’s story.


  • Good questionnaire or topic list

It is important to think carefully in advance about the topics and questions that should be covered in the interview. A good subject or topic list is indispensable. Using a topic list gives the interviewee the freedom to say what he or she wants to say. With more specific subjects, such as the experience of an earthquake, a questionnaire works better because the interviewer is looking for a specific experience.


  • Listening well

The oral history interviewer does not put himself in the foreground. He does not routinely complete a questionnaire or topic list, but listens carefully to the story. If a topic comes up automatically without a question having been asked, the question will not be asked again, unless the interviewer is looking for extra depth. This requires the interviewer to listen carefully, take notes if necessary and bring up topics that have not been discussed.


  • Dealing with emotions during the interview

Telling a life story often involves emotions. The interviewer needs to be prepared for this. Sometimes, interviewees have to interrupt the interview because the subject becomes too emotional for them. In such situations, it is good if the interviewer allows the interviewee time and space to recover without this being interpreted as indifference. Empathy and involvement is important, but without the interviewer intervening too much or participating excessively in displayed emotion.


  • Interventions during the interview

The most difficult part of an interview is determining moments of intervention. Every intervention takes the interviewee out of his or her story. The intervention will therefore have to be empathetic and fit with what is being told. If, for example, the interviewee loses the thread or lingers too long on a subject, the interviewer can use an intermediate question to steer the interview towards the main topic. A more probing question can sometimes increase the quality of the interview. Too many interventions or talking along often distracts and can lead to irritation.


  • Good agreements on privacy

The interviewer must make good written agreements before and after the interview about the use of the interview. Information about privacy and how it is guaranteed within the project is provided beforehand. After the interview has been completed, the interviewer is asked whether there are any parts of the interview that he/she does not want to be made public. A written, signed note is made of this.


  • A pleasant conclusion

A pleasant conclusion gives the interviewee the feeling that the interview was important and made a contribution to the aims of the project. It also shows the interest and commitment of the interviewer.