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Screenshot from the discussion of interviews in the evaluation toolkit.Section 6 of the Evaluation Toolkit
continues its discussion of data collection
methods. This time—interviews.

Read about the toolkit.

Interviews are an effective method for collecting in-depth information about specific topics, issues, and target audience needs, as well as their experiences and the benefits they’ve attained from your dissemination activities.

The interviewer can explain and clarify questions, and probe by asking additional questions, to increase the likelihood of obtaining useful responses. Interviews are generally conducted either in person or by phone.

This webpage on interviews addresses:

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Format of interviews

The format of interviews can be:

  • very structured,
  • semi-structured, or
  • fairly unstructured.

If straightforward, factual information is sought, a very structured approach is best – a set of pre-determined questions is generally used, and some of the questions may elicit both quantitative and qualitative responses. But if more complex or even somewhat elusive questions are being raised, a more unstructured approach should be used.

In a more unstructured approach, the interviewer may rely less on a predetermined set of questions but, rather, pose questions based on how the interview discussion evolves.

It may be advisable to use a semi-structured approach in which a core set of interview questions is used from which to branch off to less structured questions, to explore responses in greater depth.

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Interviews vs. surveys

Interviews can be a viable alternative or adjunct to a quantitative survey. As an adjunct, interviews can be used to explore an issue or problem area about which insufficient information exists, or from which a more extensive survey could be conducted later. Interviews could also be used after data have been collected from a survey for the purpose of exploring specific survey results in more detail and greater depth.

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The interview guide

An interview guide comprising a list of topics and questions should be developed. Probes for many interview questions may be needed to ensure that adequate and full information is obtained. Interviews should start with noncontroversial issues. Questions can then be posed about individuals’ experiences, opinions, and perceptions.

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Advantages of interviews

Can be very personalized.

Allow respondents to freely provide information, and reveal opinions and attitudes.

Are flexible and adaptable. Interviewer can add probes to questions, pursue topics in greater depth, and gather more in-depth information about needs and concerns, than is usually the case with a self-administered survey.

Interviewer can observe and record nonverbal behaviors, including respondent’s gestures and tone of voice.

Are appropriate to use with persons with certain disabilities (e.g., visual impairments) or with persons with limited literacy.

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Disadvantages of interviews

Samples for interviews are usually small, and smaller samples may not be adequately representative of the larger target audience group.

Can be more expensive than other methods (e.g., on-line surveys); especially if persons need to be trained in conducting interviews or interview consultants have to be hired.

May be more time consuming to implement than self-administered surveys. Scheduling with interviewees may prove cumbersome and difficult.

May be difficult to accurately capture and record interviewee responses, unless using a recording device.

Results from open-ended or unstructured interviews may prove challenging and time consuming to interpret and summarize.

Respondents may not accurately or honestly answer questions they find sensitive, awkward, or performance-oriented; and may be hesitant to reveal their true opinions or attitudes.

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When conducting interviews ensure that the process is kept focused on the main purpose – avoid allowing the interview process to veer into tangential or unrelated topics and issues.

Pilot test the interview protocol to make any necessary changes or improvements to the wording, sequence, and format of questions and topics.

Use staff that are adequately trained in conducting interviews – individuals who are skilled at facilitating dialogue, have good “people” skills, and can conduct the interview discussion in an objective, non-judgmental manner.

Consider tape-recording interviews to ensure that all information is captured and can be reviewed. If tape recording is not feasible, consider conducting the interviews with both an interviewer and note taker.

Telephone interviews should be considered, in contrast to face-to-face interviews, if cost is an issue.

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Abbreviated example of a Parent Interview Protocol

Thank you for agreeing to participate in this interview. The main purpose of this interview is to gather information about your information and resource needs as a parent with a child with disabilities. We are conducting interviews with many parents as part of an overall evaluation of our project, which is funded by the Office of Special Education Programs. Your responses to the interview will be helpful to us in making any needed improvements to the information, resources and products we provide to parents.

Your participation in this interview is completely voluntary, and information you provide is completely confidential. We will summarize results of the interviews, from all the parents we speak with, in reports, but will not disclose your name. We do not anticipate that there are any risks to you if you decide to participate in this interview.

We would like to audiotape this interview, with your permission, so that we can more accurately compile and analyze information you and other parents provide. Is it okay with you if we audiotape the interview?

Please briefly tell us about your child (children) with disabilities. What disabilities has your child (children) been identified with? What is his/her age? What types of school program and services does your child (children) receive?

What specific issues and topics related to disabilities are particularly important to you?

What types of information and resources have you found most useful?

Describe what has made these resources useful. For example, what about the content and types of information, amount of information and detail, and presentation format?

What preferences do you have about how you receive or access information and resources, for example, through connecting directly with experts, personal or professional contacts, newsletters, websites, etc.? Tell us a little about how you have used information received in these different ways? And what suggestions do you have about how information and resources can best be provided to you in these different ways?

 From your perspective, are there specific gaps in parent-friendly disability and special education information and resources? If so, how would you like these gaps to be addressed?

Thank you very much for participating in this interview. Your input is valuable to us.

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Suggested citation

This webpage is an excerpt from the evaluation toolkit produced by NICHCY. The suggested citation is:

To the entire toolkit
Sawyer, R. (2012). Toolkit for the OSEP TA & D network on how to evaluate dissemination: A component of the dissemination initiative. Washington, DC: National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities.

To this section/webpage on interviewing as a data collection method
Sawyer, R. (2012). Interviews. In Toolkit for the OSEP TA & D network on how to evaluate dissemination: A component of the dissemination initiative (pp. 15-16). Washington, DC: National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities.

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What section of the toolkit would you like to read now?

Introduction to the Toolkit

An Approach to Evaluating Dissemination

Formative Evaluation

Process Evaluation

Summative Evaluation

Data Collection Methods

Focus Groups

Interviews (you’re already here!)


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