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Еxcel your expert interview with efficiency

Get top tips and tricks to create the perfect plan for your thesis interview. Your free step-by-step guide. Everything you need to know about preparation, implementation & evaluation. Easily explained. View now!

Welcome to the tutorial “The perfect expert interview with a plan“. The expert interview is a popular method in empirical bachelor or master theses. If you too would like to use this method in your thesis, but don't know exactly how to proceed, then this tutorial is just right for you. In just a few minutes you will be optimally equipped to carefully plan your own expert interview. After some basic background information, we will show you in detail the steps you need to take to make your expert interview a complete success – from preparation to presentation of the results.


What characterizes expert interviews?


Let us begin with a brief clarification of the term ‘expert interview‘. The expert interview is a qualitative method of empirical social research. Unlike interviews with standardized questionnaires, for example, expert interviews are only semi-structured. This means that the interview is based on a previously prepared guide that contains all the questions. To ensure the spontaneity of the interview situation, the questions are usually not provided to the interviewee in advance. The advantage of such guided interviews is that you can deviate from the order of the questions and freely ask follow-up questions. Expert interviews can be conducted in person, by telephone, by e-mail, or in an online meeting. Although each form has its advantages, a face-to-face interview is always preferable.

The purpose of this method is to obtain as many expert opinions, viewpoints and insights on a topic as possible in order to evaluate them and generate a comprehensive overall view. For this reason, it is not enough to conduct just one interview; there should always be several.
Exactly how many interviews you need to conduct depends on the size of your thesis: for smaller ones such as bachelor theses, six to eight interviews are common, while for larger papers, eight to 15 interviews are usually scheduled. Ideally, interviews are conducted until no new information or insights are obtained.
The duration of an expert interview depends not least on your interview partner's willingness to communicate. However, a rule of thumb is a duration of 30 to 45 minutes.


How to conduct expert interviews - step by step 


With this background knowledge, we can now look at the individual stages into which an expert interview can be divided. Overall, there are three main stages: Preparation, execution, and evaluation. Each stage involves certain work steps.

In the preparation stage, the first step is for you to acquire enough expert knowledge about the topic of the interview so that you are able to find a suitable expert for the interview and create an appropriate guide. Read as deeply as possible into the subject matter and familiarize yourself with the central terms. Only in this way will you be able to communicate with your conversation partner at eye level.
Who qualifies as an expert depends on your field of study and topic. What is crucial is the social role or function of the potential interviewee. As a general rule, the person in question should have above-average knowledge and experience in the respective field. That said, an expert can be a scientist, a member of an organization, an authority, or even a criminal. In any case, the selection of your target group must be well justified.
To find an expert for your interview, you can use contacts from your own network, for example through university employees. Another option is to search on your own, for example at conferences and trade fairs or in social media such as Linked-In and Xing.

Once you have made your selection, the next step is to contact and arrange a binding appointment with the potential interview partner. Communicate your request clearly, explain why you have selected the person, and explain exactly what is expected of him or her. It is also important that you contact the person as early as possible and possibly have the appointment confirmed shortly before the interview.

The final step in the preparation stage is the creation of a guide. Even if the guide is only a working aid, all questions must be carefully considered and fit the main question of your thesis. This is the only way to ensure that you receive useful information that will help you achieve your research goal. Formulate your questions on the basis of the relevant theory or theories from the relevant literature.
For the sake of clarity, you should divide your questions into several thematic blocks and provide them with a large font size. Write the guide in such a way that it could in principle also be used by any other researcher without any problems. At the end, you should ask your fellow students to check whether your questions are understandable and complete.
In addition to the questions, the guide can also contain comments on the start of the interview. This includes, for example, what information you would like to share about yourself and the research objective without influencing the interview partner in a tendentious way.

Now the time has come to conduct the interview. First of all, it is crucial to create suitable conditions: Ensure an undisturbed atmosphere for the interview, check the functionality of the recording device, inform your interviewee about the anonymous treatment of the data, again obtain consent to record the interview and ask the interviewee to sign a privacy statement.
The actual interview begins with an impulse to talk. Try to be as neutral as possible and refrain from making judgmental statements. Find an introduction that gets the interviewee in the mood for the topic of conversation. For example, you could outline the reason for your research project and again express your need for questions.
To ensure that the interviewee reveals as much of their expert knowledge as possible, you must always ask open questions. Likewise, leading questions should be avoided at all costs, because otherwise there is a risk that the interviewee will adapt the answers to your supposed wishes.
To steer the conversation, it is a good idea to start with the overriding question and to ask a sub-question if the conversation does not progress as desired. In any case, it is important to listen carefully and let the interviewee answer and finish in peace. Afterwards, you still have the opportunity to ask specific follow-up questions.

After the interview, the most laborious part of the overall process begins: the evaluation. The prerequisite for this is that the recorded interview is transcribed, i.e. written down word for word. Transcription is the most time-consuming step. Experience shows that transcribing takes five to eight times as long as the interview. Therefore, plan enough time.
Three types of transcription are distinguished: simple transcription, advanced transcription, and complex transcription.
While in the simple transcription only the actual spoken word is transcribed, in the advanced transcription also gap fillers, stresses and emotional expressions are taken into account. In the complex transcription, pauses in speech, inhalation and exhalation, and in certain cases speech rate and pitch are also marked. Which form you should use depends on your particular research project.

Once the interview has been transcribed, the data is systematically analyzed: The individual utterances or text elements are checked for their meaning and summarized into certain concepts. These concepts are called codes. From these, in turn, generic concepts, so-called categories, can be formed and related to each other.
This process of coding or categorization can be done in two ways: deductively, that is, theory-driven, or inductively, that is, data-driven. In the theory-driven approach, you are guided by an existing system of aspects against which you review the data. In the data-driven approach, on the other hand, your results develop gradually on the basis of the data material.
To check the reliability of your results, you can use intra- or inter-coder rating. In intra-coder rating, the data material is coded several times by the same person. In inter-coder rating, the coding is done by different persons. In this way, it is checked whether comparable results are achieved.
Finally, you need to present your results visually. Tables are recommended for this purpose. Create the tables in such a way that you get a comparative overview of the categories and different positions of the respondents. It is important to clearly separate direct quotes, i.e. what was actually said, from your thoughts about it.

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