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Planning the Content of the Interview

  1. Determine the categories of information you need. Make sure you have questions that address each category. Do this by thinking of the stages a person with the illness goes through.

    • Equilibrium: What is it like to be a teenager with athsma? Tell me some stories about growing up with it.
    • Onset: Think about a time recently that you had a really bad athsma attack. What happened and what scared you most?
    • Decision to seek care: Emergency Room: Think about a recent flare-up where you had to go to the emergency room. Tell me what happened. Hospital: Tell me what it's like to be hospitalized. What could be done there that couldn't be done at the ER? What scared you about being hospitalized? Clinic: Think about a particularly bad visit to the clinic. Why did you go to the clinic? How were you feeling that day? What did they do at the clinic? What frustrated you? Alternative: You mentioned you went to an osteopath about your athsma. Why did you decide to go? Tell me about the visit. What did you feel about the visit?
    • Recovery period: Think about one of the longest recovery periods you've had in the past year. Tell me more about what it was like. What uncertainties did it create?
  2. During the interview, always start with broader questions and then narrow down to more specific ones.

    • "Tell me a little bit about yourself." (Broad, for background)
    • "What's it like to be a teenager with athsma?" (Starts to narrow down, but still quite general.)
  3. Help the interviewee re-live and re-tell a specific critical incident they experienced by asking:
    • "Think of a time that ____________ (e.g., you experienced a bad athsma attack that required you to go to the hospital). Tell me what it was like." (Focuses them on a specific incident rather than generalities, and helps them to recreate the incident in their minds and re-tell it in greater detail.) "When was it? Where were you? How did you know that an attack was coming?" (Time/place/event questions get them talking about specifics.)
    • "What made you afraid or uncertain?" (Evokes the emotions they felt during the incident.)
    • "Looking back on it, what still frustrates you?" (Gets to the core of their underlying needs.)
    • "What one or two things do you wish had been different or handled better?" (This usually prompts the interviewee to talk about possible solutions. The sole purpose of this type of question is NOT to solicit ideas for solutions, but rather to get a sense for what their priority needs are. This question should be given much less emphasis compared to the prior questions.
  4. You will have planned your questions before hand, but be flexible during the interview. Allow them to tell their story, and modify your questions as needed to help re-focus on the critical incidents you need to hear.
  5. Allow the interviewee to tell his/her story adequately. Listen carefully. Ask for clarification or elaboration later. Interruptions mid-story often break their train of thought and distract them from retelling the incident in helpful detail. This is extremely important. It is better to get one full story than three potential ones.
  6. Word your questions as clearly and carefully as possible so as to not to be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Watch for ambiguity in the phrasing. For example, "How did the physician treat you?" could be interpreted either as a question about interpersonal skills (e.g. treated me with disrespect) or as a question about the medical treatment (e.g. surgery, medication, etc.). Re-word a question and ask it again if the initial question is not answered satisfactorily.
  7. Don't ask close-ended "Yes/No" questions. They diminish opportunities for description of a critical incident. For example, "Are there things that frustrate you about your clinic visits?" (Yes/No question) should be rephrased as "What things frustrate you about your clinic visits?" (Open ended.)
  8. Avoid asking leading questions. An example of a leading question is: "Do you think you would be able to handle your asthma better if you were trained to manage your drugs?" (It steers them toward talking about managing their drugs, and does not give them the freedom to talk about other ways of managing their asthma.) A better question would be: "What would be most helpful to you in handling your asthma?" The interviewee is then free to talk about any number of ways that would be helpful to them instead of being steered toward the subject of drug management.
  9. Don't patronize. Make remarks that are honestly neutral and affirming. By doing so, you empower the interviewee to be the "expert" on the subject. Flanagan (1954, p.342) suggests that the interviewer can usually collect unbiased incidents if s/he indicates s/he understands what is being said during the interview and permits the interviewee to do most of the talking. When you end the interview, thank the interviewee for their help. Assure them that their comments have been very valuable and that they have been a significant contribution to the study.

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