8 January 2020 2073 words, 9 min. read Latest update : 1 April 2021

Market research: how to conduct a qualitative interview?

By Lorène Fauvelle PhD in marketing, director of IntoTheMinds
At IntoTheMinds, we place particular importance on the development of qualitative interviews, whether face-to-face interviews or focus groups. They are part of the keys necessary for a complete market research study. Of course, they must be part of an overall […]

At IntoTheMinds, we place particular importance on the development of qualitative interviews, whether face-to-face interviews or focus groups. They are part of the keys necessary for a complete market research study. Of course, they must be part of an overall methodology (you will find the details of this approach in our market research guide) and meticulously prepared through desk research. This qualitative phase is essential for the development of a quality quantitative questionnaire.


Introduction to the different types of interviews

In their book on qualitative interviews, Ouellet and Mayer (1991) distinguish between interviews concerning the degree of freedom granted to the respondent and the level of depth of the exchange.

By degree of freedom, we mean the degree of direction (general subject matter, underlying themes, more or less precise questions) imposed by the interviewer. The level of depth depends on the subject matter and corresponds to the degree of detail to be investigated. These elements will, of course, have an impact on the number of interviews to be conducted, their duration and the analysis to be carried out afterwards.

There are numerous types of interviews,

Flick et al, 2004 divide them up as follows:

Clinical interviews for therapeutic practices (Flick et al., 2004 and Ouellet and Mayer, 1991).
Biographical Interviews: Life Stories (Flick et al., 2004).
In-depth, open-ended (Ouellet and Mayer, 1991) or narrative (Flick et al., 2004) interviews that encompass a broad theme and leave room for the respondent’s free expression around the subject.
Targeted, focused or theme-based interviews induced by one or more predetermined subject(s) (Flick et al., 2004 and Ouellet and Mayer, 1991).
Open-ended interviews (Ouellet and Mayer, 1991), based on focused interviews with open-ended question preparation.
Closed-ended interviews (Ouellet and Mayer, 1991), which aim to collect quantitative rather than qualitative data.

These last two types of interviews are particularly attractive to detail since they are mainly used in the context of market research. We have devoted an article to open and closed-ended questions, the differences between them and their uses.

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For example, open-ended questions are intended to allow respondents to express themselves on a given topic and theme. In the context of a satisfaction survey, this type of question will be particularly appreciated to be able to identify areas for improvement in a company. In particular, the CIT (Critical Incident Technique, detailed in this article) method, will be used to understand consumer experiences and behaviour.

Conversely, closed-ended questions will mainly be useful to collect clear-cut answers during product tests, for example.

Guided or semi-structured interviews

This type of interview forms the basis of qualitative research in market research. We use this procedure internally as the basis for our interviews. Indeed, it is essential to compile the key themes and questions relating to the problem identified by the company to collect relevant feedback from the respondents.

An interview guide should, therefore, be prepared based on the conclusions of the documentary research. As we advise (and apply) for quantitative questionnaires, questions involving a cognitive effort are best placed at the end of the interview guide so as not to overload the respondent.

The advantages of semi-structured interviews The difficulties of semi-structured interviews
  • The flexibility of the response, interpretation, in-depth study of a topic
  • Personalisation and feedback
  • Adaptability and reactivity
  • Increased interviewer preparation (alternative wording, explanations, suggested answers to help the respondent)
  • The need for reactivity of the interviewer to react to the respondent’s comments.
  • The need to stay on track during the interview and not deviate entirely from the subject matter
  • Ambiguity and misinterpretation of questions or answers

How to be well prepared for the interview?

Flick et al. (2004) highlight the importance of first defining the field of action and the themes to be discussed during the interview. The level of depth mentioned above must also be established, and the framework and context of the discussion and the subjects must be clarified to ensure the understanding and interpretation of the messages.

Turner, D. W. (2010) details the steps to be followed to ensure the collection of the data required for the analysis. We also published a 4-step guide to help you succeed in your qualitative interviews.

credits: Shutterstock

Select your respondents

For example, if you wish to set up in a new location, you will need to interview people from that area and who are consistent with your persona based on the documentary study carried out beforehand. A customer satisfaction study will have to be carried out among the company’s customers.

Prepare your themes and questions

The neutrality of the interviewer is imperative. Indeed, it is essential to avoid any bias and not to influence the respondents in their answers, whether it be through question formulation, explicit agreement or disagreement with a statement (verbal communication) or through mimics or gestures inducing agreement or disagreement (non-verbal communication).

Don’t you think GMOs are harmful to the health?
What is your opinion on GMOs?

Personalising the questions is also very important. This allows respondents to draw on their experience in answering the questions. We are trying to understand their behaviour and not test their theoretical knowledge.

What is an organic product?
What do you think an organic product should be?

It is essential to work with the funnel method, that is to say, start with more general questions to put the respondent in the context of the interview, before questioning him or her on more detailed aspects.


                                1. What are your eating habits?
                                2. How often do you eat meat?
                                3. Where do you shop for food?
                                4. What factors influence this choice?

Be flexible and responsive

The interviewer must be responsive during an interview and react to things that the respondent brings up. How to make sure that nothing is forgotten? Prepare yourself. Thus, we advise you to detail the purpose of the questions, add explanations and alternative wording to the interview guide to overcome any misunderstandings and avoid the blank page syndrome. Potentially ambiguous terms and concepts should also be detailed in advance to avoid the interviewer not being able to explain what he or she wants to say at the time.
We also advise you to prepare some possible answers. It often happens that an open-ended question leaves a respondent stunned. In this case, the interviewer must be able to help the respondent by providing a doorway for reflection.
For example, if you ask an employee how the company manages customer returns and he or she replies that this task is dedicated to a department, investigate further, asking whether this is done by e-mail or by telephone, and so forth.
Role-playing is also essential to understanding a respondent, whether it is to recall a real-life experience or to put oneself in a hypothetical situation.

Example of a real-life situation:
Can you describe to me how your first job search went?

Example of a hypothetical situation:
Suppose you were offered your dream job on the other side of the world; how would you react?

Qualitative Interview Design_ A Practical Guide for Novice Invest

Test and adapt your guide

It will be a question of taking stock after 10 to 15% of the interviews have been carried out to validate the themes addressed, to ensure that specific fields are not redundant but above all that all the critical points for the success of the mission are mentioned during the interview.
We are not to be outdone, despite our years of experience in conducting market research and mainly qualitative interviews. We systematically put our interview guides into context and adapt them if the first interviews reveal a lack of detail on one or more themes.

Conducting the interview

As an interviewer, you will have to manage many aspects before and after the interview. As logic dictates, the interview will be influenced by your prior preparation and will impact the post-interview analysis. To ensure the smooth running of an interview, a few rules of know-how but also behaviour should be followed.
The interviewer must, of course, be prepared for the interview, know his or her subject (know-how), to be able to put the discussion into context, understand the interlocutor’s answers, and be able to identify the key points to be explored in greater depth.
Another pole is to be taken into consideration meticulously: the attitudes (behaviour). Indeed, researchers (Flick et al., 2004 and Ouellet and Mayer, 1991) agree on their importance, and our expertise in qualitative interviews confirms this.

What is the right attitude to adopt as an interviewer?

  • Create an atmosphere of trust so that the respondent feels comfortable and gives himself/herself up more quickly.
  • Be neutral, open-minded and empathetic, which will avoid bias, both in the answers and in the interpretations and analyses, and will play on the relaxed atmosphere conducive to confessions.
  • Generate and maintain interest (active listening) while intervening at appropriate times to avoid pointing the finger at the respondent.

Of course, this is not easy and requires years of experience to be mastered. However, here are a few tips that will no doubt help you:

  • Introduce yourself to your interviewee and thank him or her for agreeing to make time available for the interview; this will act as an icebreaker.
  • Explain the context of the interview, the issues, and how it will be conducted. If you are recording the interview (audio and/or video), it will be imperative to ask your respondent’s permission. We strongly advise you to communicate this before the interview if the recording is essential following the research (transcriptions, coding, and so on), this will avoid wasting time for both parties. Explain to the respondent in what context and to what extent the recordings will be used.
  • Be neutral in your communications, verbal and non-verbal (facial expressions, gestures, rhythm) but also in your appearance.
  • Do not be prescriptive: ask questions several times if necessary, changing the wording; for example, ask for clarification, bounce back on what the respondent has just said, make connections between different statements.
  • Active listening also means putting the respondent’s words into context. Formulations such as “If I understood correctly…”, “Correct me if I’m wrong…” will allow you to clarify specific points, to bring up an essential subject again.
  • Personalise your formulations according to your interlocutor: you don’t need to read your questions word for word, adapt yourself! If the theme is family dynamics, and your respondent is talking about his or her children (Louis and Marie), use these first names as well.
  • Help the respondent: rephrase your questions, introduce the first element of the response to trigger reflection.
  • Don’t be afraid of silences; they often guarantee a rebound.
  • Be transparent: if you want to check that you have not forgotten a question, there is no shame in explaining it to your respondent.
  • At the end of the interview, we advise you always to ask respondents if they think all aspects of the topic have been covered, if they have any suggestions or questions. We are never safe from having omitted a sub-topic, or from having to deal with a particular case that would have other elements to communicate to us. These types of questions will also make it easier to review and adapt the interview guide.
  • Collect feedback from your interviewee and thank them again for their cooperation.


As you have seen, there are many parameters to be taken into account before and during an interview. To ensure the quality of an interview or series of interviews, it is essential to be prepared. It will, therefore, be necessary to define the themes and subjects to be addressed, the types of questions and their sequence, as well as potential alternative formulations and explanations. It is essential to balance the cognitive load of your interviewee. To maintain his or her interest and desire to reveal himself or herself on the topic in question. Beyond the methodology, it is also important not to forget conventions, morals and customs, to ensure a feeling of trust conducive to confidence.



Image: Shutterstock

Posted in Misc., Research.

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