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When to Use This Free Activity
This FREE to use activity is particularly useful if you are providing training that is based around the following topics:
- Market research skills
- Qualitative research skills
- Business skills
- Interview techniques and skills
Length of Task
You can lengthen or shorten this activity based on your time constraints but we suggest making this a 30-minute group activity.
Starting the Group Activity
1. Ask your participants to work in pairs or in groups of up to 4 people.
2. Hand each pair or group a printed version of the ‘Constructing-questions’ handout.
>> You can download it for FREE here to print off!
3. Ask participants to assess if there are mistakes in the way the questions are formulated and to discuss how they would improve each question.
*Note that the 10 interview questions are intentionally badly constructed.
4. Give participants 10 to 15 minutes to do this and then start a discussion with the whole class to share their ideas.
5. Use the detailed information and breakdown below that we provide, to explain to the class what was wrong with each question and the correct way to improve these questions.
The Activity Outcome and Learning
Below, you can find a description of the issues with each question.
Question 1 – What is wrong with the way young customer service advisors deal with customers and what can we do about it?
The use of the word ‘wrong’ is judgmental and it leads to making an assumption. Also, singling out ‘young’ customer service advisors is suggesting that there is something inherently wrong with that particular group of advisors.
The question is also ambiguous, as it is not clear what the interviewer wants to find out with this question.
Finally, this is two questions in one.
To improve the question, it should be reworded to find out first if the interviewee has an opinion about how customer service advisors deal with customers.
For example: ‘How do you think customer service advisors deal with customers?’.
The interviewee will then tell you if they think they deal with customers well or not and if young advisors or any other category of advisors are worse (if there is anyone better or worse than others).
Also, the question should be split. So, after the way in which advisors deal with customers is dealt with and any problems identified, you can ask what can be done about it.
Question 2 – How often do you go out walking?
This depends on the context.
This question is ok if the interview is specifically about people’s walking habits or if the interviewee has previously told you that s/he goes walking.
If, however, the interview is about, for example, people’s lifestyle and walking has not been mentioned so far, then this question could contain ‘prestige bias’ as it may imply that it is the right thing to do for people to go out walking and the interviewee may be tempted to lie.
If you want to find out about their exercise habits, you could ask first what they like to do in their spare time and, depending on their answers, you will delve deeper.
Question 3 – What do you think can be done about global warming?
This question assumes that the interviewee knows enough about global warming to have an opinion on what can be done about it. A question like this, asked out of the blue, can be either intimidating or puzzling.
Ask other questions first, to find out if the interviewee has an opinion on what can be done about global warming and if they think that something can be done at all.
Question 4 – Many medical professionals agree that eating too much salt is bad for people’s health. Do you agree?
This question is leading and also it is a closed question that requires a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
Also, it contains ‘prestige bias’ because it mentions medical professionals. So, the interviewee is inclined to answer ‘yes’ because they may not want to contradict what the experts say.
Make the question open, remove the reference to medical professionals and ask other questions beforehand to investigate the interviewee’s attitude towards salt in the diet.
Question 5 – Do you agree that staff should not have to attend meetings that they are not interested in?
This is a closed question, which is best kept to a minimum in qualitative interviews.
Also, there are too many negatives (‘should not have’, ‘are not interested’) and using too many negatives in a sentence can be confusing.
Finally, the expression ‘do you agree’ makes it a lead question, which implies that the interviewee should agree with you.
You could ask instead something like: “What do you think of the requirement on staff to attend meetings?’
Question 6 – Has your child ever stolen anything? If so, what and when?
This depends on the situation. If it is a follow-up question and you have already established rapport with the interviewee, they trust you, they know that their anonymity is guaranteed and you have already discussed their concern regarding their child’s criminal activities, it can be ok to ask such a question but it may need rewording.
You need to ask it in a sensitive and non-judgmental way. For example: ‘Were you ever worried that your child might have stolen something?’ If they say yes, ask probing questions to find out more about the situation.
Question 7 – What do you think about the government’s attempt to blackmail businesses?
This is a very leading question. In particular, the word ‘blackmail’ has very emotional connotations and it implies that the government is acting unethically towards businesses.
Whoever asks a question in such a way has a clear political agenda and their research should not be trusted.
It is, of course, ok for researchers to have opinions but the impact of their opinions should be minimized and, at the very least, they should avoid asking leading questions; otherwise, the findings would not be believable.
Question 8 – How much money do you think the average marketing department wastes every year?
This is another leading and judgemental question. The interviewee may not know the figures. Also, what is an ‘average’ marketing department and how do we know that they ‘waste’ money?
If the researcher wants to find out how a marketing department uses their budget, maybe a better way would be to use observations.
Or, if they are interviewing an expert, they can ask something along the lines of: ‘How is the budget of the marketing department allocated between its expenditures?’
Question 9 – How much do you earn?
Firstly, this question is too vague. Is the interviewer referring to gross or net earnings? Do they want to know annual, monthly or weekly earnings? Do they want to know household or personal earnings?
Secondly, the question is very personal and not everybody might want to answer. This depends on the situation.
Question 10 – What is your ethnicity?
This can be a controversial question and to be avoided. If, however, it is relevant for the research objectives, it may be ok.
It is still confusing though as it assumes that the interviewee’s idea of ethnicity is the same as the researcher’s. Ethnicity can be influenced by a variety of things including nationality, place where one is born, where that person’s ancestors were from, personal background, religion, culture, etc.
This is too confusing and probably best to be avoided altogether. An interviewer could ask more specific questions instead, such as nationality, where the interviewee was born, etc.
Paul Symonds PhD
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