Step 2: Design the questions

Question design is critical in achieving a productive qualitative interview. This section gives tips for the design of good interview questions, and provides examples of prompts and exercises for focus groups.

Tips for writing good interview and focus group questions

  • brevity - keep questions to a minimum, to allow for detailed answers and discussion. If the interview includes lots of short questions, a survey might be a better tool for the job.
  • salience to the evaluation - ensure that the interview questions address the purpose of the evaluation and specific evaluation questions you are trying to address. Consult with knowledgeable stakeholders to ensure that the questions are important, and pilot the topic guide before finalising it.
  • relevance to the respondent - only ask questions the respondents could be expected to know about. Ensure that the language of the questions is appropriate to the individuals or group being interviewed.
  • clarity - ask questions that are clear, specific and unambiguous. Questions should concern one issue at a time. Avoid long, complex or double-barrelled questions. Jargon or technical language should either be avoided or clarified.
  • style - ask open ended questions, for example, “What is your opinion of…?
  • order - organise questions in a logical sequence, beginning with an interesting, non-threatening question which all participants are able to answer confidently. Ask questions regarding the present day before asking questions about the past or future.

Use of prompts, exercises and games in focus groups

Experienced interviewers and facilitators may gain value from incorporating prompts or exercises in focus group settings. Examples include:

  • a mini-survey at the start of a new discussion topic that asks participants to write down some of their thoughts before discussing with others. This can help avoid post-rationalisation and cognitive bias.
  • photographs or video footage, including images captured by participants themselves, to prompt recollections and provide concrete points of reference.
  • workshop-style exercises and games that get participants out of their seat.
  • informal settings, such as outdoors.
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