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Qualitative Interviewing Workshop

Lea Sgier

University of Geneva

Lea Sgier is a senior lecturer at the University of Geneva and a senior researcher at the University of Applied Arts and Sciences in Geneva, in operational charge of a National Science Foundation project on Alzheimer policy (2017–21), and co-investigator on a project on elder people's political citizenship.

She has taught qualitative methods at various summer and winter schools (Essex, ECPR, WSSR Concordia, etc.) and numerous workshops and seminar throughout the world.

From 2010–17 she was an assistant professor of qualitative methodology at Central European University in Budapest, and since 2013 she has been a member of the Steering Committee of the ECPR Standing Group on Political Methodology.

Course Dates and Times

Monday 25 February – Friday 1 March, 09:00–12:30 and 14:00–16:30 (finishing slightly earlier on the Friday)
25 hours over 5 days

Prerequisite Knowledge

You must be using some form of qualitative interviewing in your current research (PhD thesis, project). 

This is not a beginner's course. You should already be familiar with the basics of qualitative interviewing.

This course is suitable for two types of participants:

  1. those who have not yet collected their own interview data, but are planning to start interviews in the near future. These people can use this course to prepare their study (topic guides, access strategies, 'sampling'/selection procedures, etc), enhance their understanding of interviewing by learning from participants who have already collected more data, and from readings and common discussions;
  2. those who have already done interviews that they will bring to the course. These people can reflect on and fine-tune their data collection, in light of their and other participants' experiences (with an eye on data analysis).

I will assume that all participants are familiar with the basics of qualitative interviewing. At very least you should know the basic literature on interviewing; ideally, you should have some practical experience, too (this may have been acquired in previous research, such as a Master's thesis, project work, or some pilot-stage data collection). We will not go step-by-step through the whole process of an interview, or teach interviewing techniques.

I require submission before the course of:

  • a well elaborated (draft) research design that makes clear how you intend to use qualitative interviews
  • a tentative topic guide that should have been discussed with you supervisor and, if possible, pre-tested or at least submitted to a few other people for preliminary feedback
  • for participants who have already collected some data, an interview transcript (a full transcript if the data are in English, German, French, Italian or Spanish)
  • if the original data are in any other language, a partial transcript of 5–6 pages translated into English, German or French.

I will circulate more information, well in advance of the course, about the documents you need to submit. You will also be asked to fill out a short questionnaire to make sure you have the prerequisites.

Short Outline

This hands-on course will give you methodological tools, and a space for critical reflection, to refine qualitative interviewing techniques in your own research.

Part of each day will be devoted to lectures and discussions about key methodological issues. This will broaden your methodological horizons and improve your understanding of how data collection through interviewing fits into the overall research design, whether qualitative or mixed methods. You will learn how interview data collection relates to epistemological and theoretical as well as practical and ethical questions.

We will also discuss (collectively) aspects of participants' projects, and give participants ideas on how to take them forward.

You must be willing to be actively engaged throughout the week, and to take part in methodological discussions beyond your own projects – a lot of learning will happen through collective engagement with the projects of fellow participants.

Tasks for ECTS Credits

4 credits Attend at least 90% of course hours, participate fully in in-class activities, and carry out the necessary reading and/or other work prior to, and after, class. Read preparatory readings and/or other materials in preparation for class, submitting some preparatory documents two or three weeks ahead of the course.

8 credits As above, plus complete a take-home paper (to be graded) of about 10 pages, for which you will normally do one full interview with your own topic guide; transcribe it and provide a short methodological and substantive analysis (other formats are possible and can be discussed on a one-to-one basis).

Long Course Outline

In-depth interviewing is a widely used method for data collection in the social and human sciences. It is the method of choice for research projects that aim to explore people's experiences, motives, opinions and perspectives in their depth and richness and without constraining the respondents' answers by a priori categories or pre-set reply options.

In political science in particular, it is often also used for the purpose of reconstructing processes and events. A yet less frequent, but equally interesting use of interviews is as tools for accessing collective and cultural discourses. Although generally structured by a topic guide, in-depth interviews allow for flexibility and openness throughout the interaction. They should be based on open, non-leading questions designed to get the interviewee to talk freely and at length, and to explore the width and depth of his or her views and experiences (see for example Ritchie et al. 2013, Kvale/Brinkman 2008 or Hermanowicz 2002).

Although widely used, in-depth interviewing as a method is often under-reflected, and consequently used too ‘naively’, with insufficient understanding of its limitations, specificities and difficulties. This hands-on course aims to provide you with methodological tools and a space for critical reflection, to refine your understanding of the method and help fine-tune the use you make of it.

I will assume you are familiar with the basics of some form of qualitative interviewing (such as semi-structured in-depth interviewing, biographic interviewing or other forms of un- or loosely structured interviewing, oral history interviews, expert interviews, etc). Experience with focus group interviewing or even journalistic or clinical interviewing might also be fine, provided you are familiar with the literature on research interviewing. Whether this experience has been acquired through formal training or/and hands-on experience is secondary – what counts is that you have a concrete sense of what research interviewing entails.

Part of each day will be devoted to lectures, discussions and exercises on key methodological issues (in light of, but not necessarily limited to, participants' own projects) such as:

  • elaborating efficient topic guides that ensure theoretical soundness and communicative quality;
  • interviewing techniques and ways of handling ‘difficult’ respondents, topics, groups or situations (for example un-talkative or evasive respondents; specific respondent groups such as high-level political elites or vulnerable respondents; sensitive topics such as corruption or violence; specific situations such as interviewing in non-democratic or cross-cultural contexts);
  • strategies for negotiating access and for selecting respondents in a way that results in a meaningful ‘sample’;
  • ensuring research ethics on issues such as confidentiality and informed consent, or criteria of scientific soundness (such as internal validity and process transparency), and how they should manifest themselves during data collection, data analysis and writing up;
  • how to preempt and confront methodological criticism on the part of external agents such as PhD committees or editors.

We will briefly consider data analysis, mainly with the aim of making you aware of how to ‘hear’ data beyond explicit contents, and how to deal with the dilemmas inherent in interview data (such as interviewees making contradictory statements at different points of the interview, or discrepancies between what respondents say and what documents show). This is not a full data analysis course, though – if you are interested mainly in data analysis, take a data analysis-specific course.

The general aim of this part of the course is to broaden your methodological horizons, your understanding of how data collection through interviewing fits into the overall research design (whether qualitative or mixed methods), and how it relates to epistemological and theoretical as well as practical and ethical questions.

The other part of the day will be used to discuss particular aspects of participants’ projects (collectively), giving you ideas on how to move forward with your own work. You will be invited to give short presentations (to the whole group or – possibly – to a sub-group with similar issues). These will oblige you to make your assumptions and strategies explicit, and to confront critical questions. I hope you will also gain new insights into how you could enrich your approach, or ground or streamline it better.

At the end of each day you will be given homework for the next day (work on your topic guide; articulate your theoretical/epistemological understanding of interviewing; reflect on practical and ethical issues related to planned interviews, etc.), which will feed into the following day’s activities.

To benefit from this course, you must be willing to be actively engaged throughout the week, and to take part in methodological discussions beyond your own specific projects. A lot of learning will happen through collective engagement with other participants' projects.

By the end of the week, you will have had various opportunities to present your project and submit emerging ideas for discussion and feedback.

Day Topic Details

Provisional – will be adjusted with an eye on participants' projects.

An additional bibliography will be distributed subsequently.


Introductory structured exercise with participant presentations(1) (09:00–10:45)

Introductory lecture: challenges of qualitative interviewing throughout the research process (in light of participants' projects) (11:00–12:30)

'Good' and 'bad' interviewing – sensitising exercises on the basis of interview transcripts (14:00–15:15)

Lecture/discussion: Interviewing techniques (15:20–16:30)

Homework: work on topic guide; do exercise in interviewing techniques.


Warm-up discussion of topic guides and interviewing techniques (2) (09:00–09:45)

Lecture: access and respondent selection in research interviewing (09:45–10:45)

Discussion of participants' issues with access and respondent selection (11:0012:30)

Lecture: Interviewing and research ethics (14:0015:00)

Participant presentations (3) on research ethics and access

Homework: work on topic guide/interviewing techniques and methods chapter (research ethics)


Warm-up discussion of topic guides/interviewing techniques (09:00–09:45)

Lecture: Topic guides – from theoretical coherence to efficient communication (09:45–10:45)

Lecture and discussion: theoretical understandings of research interviewing and their practical implications for data collection and analysis. (10:45–12:30)

Participant presentations (2)

Homework: work on topic guides/interviewing techniques, and on the methods chapter (rationale for the use of interviews, pitfalls of using interviews in this particular case)


Lecture: 'Hearing data' – listening and analysing for content and discourse (implications for interviewing techniques and data analysis) (09:00–10:45)

Exercises in 'hearing' data  and short discussion on emerging epistemological issues (the 'truth' issue, respondent validation etc.) (11:00–12:30)

Participant presentations (3)

Homework: exercise in data analysis; writing up exercise (if applicable)


(Interactive) Lecture: quality criteria in qualitative research – assuring rigour and being convincing (dealing with ethics boards, PhD committee members, editors, etc.) (09:00–10:30).

(Interactive) Lecture: writing up interview findings (10:45–12:30)

Wrapping it all up: final presentations (4) with roadmap,  next steps and pending issues

Day Readings

Yeo, Alice et al. (2013). 'In-Depth Interviews', in Ritchie, Jane, Lewis, Jane, McNaughton Nicholls, Carol and Ormston, Rachel (eds) (2013). Qualitative Research Practice: A Guide for Social Scientists and Researchers London: Sage

Foddy, William (1993). Construction Questions for Interviews and Questionnaires: Theory and Practice in Social Research Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ch. 1–2

Mosley, Layna (2013). '"Just Talk to People"? Interviews in Contemporary Political Science', in Mosley, Layna (ed.), Interview Research in Political Science Ithaca/London: Cornell University Press, pp. 1–28


Keats, Daphne M. (2000). Interviewing: A Practical Guide for Students and Professionals Buckingham: Open University Press, pp. 34–57

Arthur, Sue et al. (2013). 'Designing Fieldwork Strategies and Materials', in Ritchie, Jane et al. (éds), Qualitative Research Practice London: Sage, pp. 147–176

Bowen, Glenn A. 2006. 'Grounded Theory and Sensitizing Concepts.' International Journal of Qualitative Methods 5(3), article 2. (Retrieved 5 from:

Hermanowicz, Joseph C. (2002). 'The Great Interview: 25 Strategies for Studying People in Bed', Qualitative Sociology 25(4): 479–499

Foddy, William (1993). Construction Questions for Interviews and Questionnaires: Theory and Practice in Social Research Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ch. 12

Goffman, Erving (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, ch. 3 and 6


Luborsky, Mark R. and Rubinstein, Robert L. (1995). 'Sampling in Qualitative Research: Rationale, Issues, and Methods'. Research on Aging 17:89–113.

Lilleker, Darren (2003). 'Interviewing the Political Elite: Navigating a Political Minefield', Politics 23(3): 207–14.

Adler, Patricia A. and Adler, Peter (2002). 'The Reluctant Respondent', in Gubrium, Jaber F. and Holstein, James A., (eds) The Handbook of Interview Research (1st ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage, pp. 515–535.

Ostrander, Susan A. (1993). '"Surely You’re Not in This Just To Be Helpful": Access, Rapport, and Interviews in Three Studies of Elites' in R. Hertz et J.B. Imber (eds), Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 22: 7–27.

ASA Code of Ethics


Hammersley, Martyn (with Roger Gomm) (2008). 'Assessing the Radical Critique of Interviews', in Hammersley, Martyn, Questioning Qualitative Inquiry London: Sage, pp.  89–100

Mikecz, Robert (2012). 'Interviewing Elites: Addressing Methodological Issues'. Qualitative Inquiry 2012 18:482493

Ritchie, Jane and Spencer, Liz (2002). 'Qualitative Data Analysis for Applied Policy Research', in Huberman, A. Michael and Miles, Matthew B. (eds), The Qualitative Researcher's Companion Thousand Oaks: Sage, pp. 305–329

Alexiadou, Nafsika (2001). 'Researching policy implementation: Interview data analysis in institutional contexts', International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 4(1): 51–69

McCormack, Coralie (2002). 'From Interview Transcript to Interpretive Story: Part 1 – Viewing the Transcript Through Multiple Lenses'. Field Methods, Vol. 12, No. 4, November 2000 282–297


Yanow, Dvora (2006). 'Neither Rigorous nor Objective? Interrogating Criteria for Knowledge Claims in Interpretive  Science', in Yanow, Dvora and Schwartz-Shea, Peregrine (eds) (2006). Interpretation and Method: Empirical Research Methods and the Interpretive Turn Armonk NY: M.E. Sharpe

Mertens, Donna M. (2014). 'Ethical Use of Qualitative Data and Findings', in Flick, Uwe (ed.), The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Data Analysis London: Sage, pp. 510–523

Additional Readings

Rosenblatt, Paul C. (2002). 'Interviewing at the Border of Fact and Fiction', in Gubrium, Jaber F. and Holstein, James A., (eds) The Handbook of Interview Research (1st ed) Thousand Oaks: Sage, pp. 893–910

Schwartz-Sea, Peregrine, and Yanow, Dvora (2012). Interpretive Research Design New York: Routledge, ch. 1–2

Riessman, Catherine Kohler (2008). Narrative Methods for the Human Sciences London: Sage, chap. 3

Kvale, Steinar and Brinkmann, Svend (2014). InterViews: Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing London: Sage, 3rd edition, ch. 12, 14

Coffey, Amanda and Atkinson, Paul (1996). Making Sense of Qualitative Data London: Sage


See daily schedule. A more specific bibliography will be distributed during the course.


Prospective participants interested in this course should be familiar with basic literature on interviewing such as those below. The very basics of interviewing will not be taught in this as they are presumed known. Participants who are unsure whether they have the required perquisites for this course are advised to contact the instructor before enrolling.

Arksey, Hilary and Knight, Peter (1999). Interviewing for Social Scientists London: Sage

Gillham, Bill (2005). Research Interviewing: The Range of Techniques Maidenhead: Open University Press/MacGraw-Hill

Holstein, James A. and Gubrium, Jaber F. (1995). The Active Interview Thousand Oaks: Sage

Kvale, Steinar and Brinkmann, Svend (2014). InterViews: Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing London: Sage, 3rd edition

Ritchie, Jane, Lewis, Jane, McNaughton Nicholls, Carol and Ormston, Rachel (eds) (2013). Qualitative Research Practice: A Guide for Social Scientists and Researchers London: Sage (the first edition of the same book, 2003, is fine as well)

Rubin, Herbert J. and Rubin, Irene (2012). Qualitative Interviewing: The Art of Hearing Data Thousand Oaks etc. Sage

Weiss, Robert (1994). Learning From Strangers: The Art and Method of Qualitative Interview Studies New York: The Free Press

Reference Books

Bevir, Mark (ed.) (2010). Interpretive Political Science 4 vol. Los Angeles: Sage

Gubrium, Jaber F. and Holstein, James A. (eds) (2001). Handbook of Interview Research: Context and Method London: Sage, 1st edition

Gubrium, Jaber F., Holstein, James A., Marvasti, Amir B. and McKinney, Karyn D (eds) (2012). Handbook of Interview ResearchThe Complexity of the Craft Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2nd edition

Fielding, Nigel G. (ed.) (2002). Interviewing London: Sage, 4 vol

Fielding, Nigel (ed.) (2008). Interviewing II 4 vol. London: Sage

Recommended Courses to Cover Before this One

<p><strong>Summer School</strong></p> <p>Interpretive research design<br /> Mixed methods research<br /> Expert Interviews</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>

Recommended Courses to Cover After this One

<p><strong>Summer School</strong></p> <p>Qualitative Data Analysis/Advanced Qualitative Data Analysis</p> <p><strong>Winter School</strong></p> <p>Vignette Methods in Interpretive Research</p>

Additional Information


This course description may be subject to subsequent adaptations (e.g. taking into account new developments in the field, participant demands, group size, etc). Registered participants will be informed in due time.

Note from the Academic Conveners

By registering for this course, you confirm that you possess the knowledge required to follow it. The instructor will not teach these prerequisite items. If in doubt, contact the instructor before registering.