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In-depth interview

на русском · in english

In-depth interview is a communication in the form of questions and answers, the purpose of which is to obtain the information needed by the researcher. The key task is not just to ask, but to see the world through the eyes of others and feel what they feel. Below I will tell you about the advantages and disadvantages of open and closed questions, about popular techniques, about the stages of interviews and solving difficult situations.

Closed questions

Almost always asking closed-ended questions is bad. They assume a binary answer: yes or no.


  • allow you to get specific information
  • confirm or refute hypotheses
  • nice change of subject


  • we get little information
  • there are no details and details
  • we can impose our opinion

Open questions

These usually begin with the words: “why, why, how, describe, tell us what you think and so on.”


  • allow the respondent to answer without restrictions
  • give the respondent the opportunity to freely talk about their feelings and comment on events
  • provoke a person to reflect, analyze their actions and thoughts that may not have occurred to them before


  • may provoke a long confused response
  • the respondent may go “wrong way”

A dirty trick, how to turn a closed question into an open one. Closed question + “Tell me...” = Open question.

The “Five Whys” technique

In order to find the cause of behavior, problems, inconsistencies, it is necessary to consistently ask the same question — “Why?”, and look for answers to this question. Each new question is added to the answers to the previous question.

Often the repetition of the same question causes discomfort. How to make it better:

  1. Reformulate, for example, “What is the reason?” or “Because of what... is it happening?” or “Why is that?”.
  2. Say that you will ask “Why?” because you want to get to the root cause.

Technique “What? Who? · Where? When? · How? Why?”

The technique works well if you need to understand who the people who will be the users of your product are. Find out what they are doing, what problems they are facing.

  • What happened? What was the hardest part? What does a person do? Who else is involved? What’s wrong with the current solution?

Find out the context. Where it happens and when.

  • Where did this happen? When was the last time this happened?

How they do it. How to solve problems already. Why is it so.

  • How exactly did this happen? Why was it difficult? How did you manage? How often is it repeated? Has the solution to the problem changed over time and why?

Stage: Preparation

Preparation consists of six steps:

  1. Understand the purpose of the interview.
  2. Do desk research on the topic.
  3. Make a plan: questions, situations, features.
  4. Formulate hypotheses.
  5. Think about what else might be useful for an interview.
  6. Have 3 main questions.

Stage: Interview


  • Tell us who you are and why you are conducting this interview.
  • Indicate the duration.
  • There are no wrong answers. You are here to find out the real experience of a person.
  • The first questions should be made introductory to relax the respondent.

The main part

  • Talk about the respondent’s life, not about your idea.
  • Ask about specific things that happened in the past, and not about views or opinions on the future.
  • Talk less, listen more.
  • Use the techniques of “Five Whys” and “What? Who! · Where? When? · How? Why?” to dig deeper.
  • Show friendliness and interest. Be simpler.
  • Speak in your native language
  • Keep the question neutral. Don’t give your opinion. Don’t rate.
  • Ask to compare.

Thank the respondent. Find out if the person wants to add something or ask you. Ask for the contacts of other people you can talk to. Agree on a potential sequel.

Difficult situations: the respondent is silent

Sometimes the respondent comes across silent. You should tell him about the value of the conversation. Tell me who you are and why this is all happening now. So to speak, to interest the respondent. Push the goal aside and establish personal contact.

Difficult situations: indecisive respondent

Sometimes the respondent does not give clear answers to each question. And yes and no, and so and so. Perhaps this is even very good. The respondent may have different experiences and it is worth digging deeper here. Ask about each option separately, why yes, why not. Ask for examples of all situations.

Difficult situations: talkative respondent

The respondent walks away after the question and gives completely useless information. Sometimes they can’t even be stopped, and the interview time is ticking. Here it is important to skillfully stop the respondent. For example, offer to discuss it later. It is also necessary to interrupt carefully, try to do it “on the inhale”.

 671   2022   about   process
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