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18 JANUARY 2011

The Art of the Email Interview

"Our first iteration of the email interview was something like an open–ended survey. It explained the project and supplied the appropriate participant information and consent forms. Then, it listed the questions. It was in many ways a participant friendly version of the interview guide.

While the turnaround on the email interview surveys was really good from a time perspective, we felt that the answers we were getting were very short, to the point, and formal. This is in contrast to our in–person interviews, where answers to one question would often meander through several equally interesting subjects in the process of their completion.

So I thought a lot about how the in–person interviews were different from the email interviews, and I realized it was that with in–person interviews, the participant doesn't know all of the questions you will be asking up front. Usually we tell them what kind of questions we will be asking, or what kind of information we are looking for, but the specific questions are unknown. As a result, the participant will often include a lot more information in the answer to each question. There was something about seeing all of the questions all at once that was cutting off this meandering; something about having all of the questions in front of the participant at once made the answers short and to the point.

So our solution was to send email interview questions one at a time.

This was a tremendous success. When we sent the questions one at a time, the answers were long, rich, and varied. ...

We have tried out the second iteration of email interviewing on several participants, and have been blown away with their responses.

There are probably restrictions that come with this method. It is probably not appropriate for people who do not normally communicate via text–based mediums. (Our participants are very comfortable with the written communication of the internet, so in our case this has not been an issue.) It might also be less appealing to very busy executives–our coursemate Cora is doing a project with such folks, and she feels that her participants would become irritated with the process after three questions."

(Rachel Shadoan, 31 July 2010)


consent forms • email interview • email interviewingemail interviewsethnographic methodsethnographic researchethnography • Facebook interview • in-person • in-person interviews • information gatheringinterview (research method) • interview guide • interview questions • meander • meandering • mediated environments • open-ended survey • participant • participant information • research dialoguesresearch methodsocial mediasocial media researchersurvey • text-based mediums • written communication


Simon Perkins

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