Posted by: Dorianne Cotter-Lockard | 4 March 2008

Learning About Research Design – questions

I have spent the past few days scanning several books on research design, qualitative research and interviewing techniques. Here’s a summary of what I have learned thus far – note that I already know that my approach to this research project is qualitative, phenomenological and hermeneutic.

In Interviewing: Principles and Practices (Stewart & Cash, 2005), I found the most value in Chapters 3, “Questions and Their Uses” and 5, “The Probing Interview.” The rest of the book is about various other types of interviews (recruiting, employment, counseling, etc.) and not relevant to research, except for a chapter on survey interviews.

There are four types of questions: highly open, moderately open, highly closed, and moderately closed questions. Highly open questions begin with statements like “how do you feel about…” or “Tell me about….” Moderately open questions start with “how would you react to…” or “what comes to mind when you see….” and their nouns are more specific. Moderately closed questions still allow the participant to fill in the blank, such as “what did you eat for lunch today?” Highly closed questions would be the type found on surveys, such as “on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the best, how do you rate customer service?”

This got me to really think about the types of questions I have on my question list for my interviews. My goal is to elicit the experience of different states of consciousness during and after meditation. My questions need to be as open as possible in order to allow a free expression of the experience. I don’t want to lead my participants, yet there are some types of experiences I’d like to capture, such as out-of-body or differences in sense of time.

According to Stewart and Cash, there are also Primary and Secondary questions. Primary questions introduce the topic and secondary questions dig deeper (probe) into a topic. There are several types of secondary questions: silent , nudging , clearinghouse , informational , restatement, reflective, and mirror probes. I will have to think carefully about the different types of probing questions I ask so that I allow the maximum freedom for my participants to express their experience, yet obtain answers to my questions. I will be revising my questions based on the above points.

There are sections in the book about conducting interviews, common pitfalls, etc. I’m a very experienced interviewer because of my 25 years as a manager, consultant and leader. This book was geared to less experienced individuals, and I do recommend this book for those who have very little experience in the interview process.

If you are interested in following this research project, I added a page: research project #1

Stewart, Charles J. and William B. Cash, Jr. (2005). Interviewing: Principles and Practices. 12th ed., New York: McGraw-Hill



  1. I still need to be well versed on how to design research questions in a more easy way because I am doing my dessertation on Culture and development studies.

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