The Interview Process: Components of My Plan for a Semi-Structured, Power Balanced, Story-telling Inquiry

I’ve not had much experience conducting research interviews, but I am very drawn to the process, especially related to professional experience. One of the ways that the literature describes the engagements or sessions that we have with clients is as interviews in clinical practice. Miller and Rollnick (2013) model for motivational interviewing showcases this.

My inquiry will follow a semi-structured interview process. As proposed by Smith (1995), I will have to have neutral, open ended questions that avoid jargon. In my case, I can resort to focusing more detached explanations versus the stories being provided. Chase (1995) encourages interviewers to invite the interviewee to tell stories. She describes that we are to “encourage them to take responsibility for the meaning of their talk. A successful interviewer manages to shift the weight of responsibility to the other in such a way that he or she willingly embraces it”(p. 3). This shift happens with the orientation of the question.

This orientation of the question can be through both the word choice selected. For example, in my post Pilot Study Design: The Participant, Interview Questions, Researcher Positionality, and Informed Consent, I proposed a question asking the participant to “How do you define trauma?” While this might be an appropriate question. The encouragement that Dr. John Scott provided was to use “describe” verses “define.” The change in verb can move the conversation away from a dictionary-style definition to more of a story filled explanation.

Kim (2016) provides a practical method for framing questions using a two-sentence format interview technique. The procedure follows a statement question format. First, give a reflection of the discussion to lay the groundwork for the next question and relating it to prior responses. Second, offer the next question. Returning to a more clinical focus on interviewing, Hepworth et al. (2017) describe several communication skills that follow under verbal following skills with clients. A critical aspect of helping these interviews engage is in engaging in reflective responding. There are several reflective responding types, including simple, complex, double-sided, reframing, and with a twist. The general idea of each of them is to help reflect our understanding of the client’s responses, feelings, behavior, etc. Similarly, it seems that the statement and its focus on both developing rapport and collaboration are in a similar vein to reflective responding to our interview participants.

Having considerations related to power is essential to consider in all of our interactions. Some of the interviewing tips that Smith (1995) provides could help make the participant more comfortable. These include not rushing, asking one question at a time, and monitoring the participant’s responses in how much prompting is required and the perceived impact the questions might have. Hopefully, this type of structure will move the participant to engage more story-telling as a part of the inquiry.


Chase, S. E. (1995). Chapter 1 - Taking narrative seriously: Consequences for method and theory in interview studies. In R. Josselson (Ed.), Interpreting experience: The narrative study of lives (1 ed., Vol. 3, pp. 1-26). Sage.

Hepworth, D. H., Rooney, R. H., Rooney, G. D., & Strom-Gottfried, K. (2017). Empowerment Series: Direct Social Work Practice Theory and Skills (10th Ed.). Cengage Learning.

Kim, J.-H. (2016). Understanding narrative inquiry: The crafting and analysis of stories as research. SAGE.

Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2013). Motivational interviewing: helping people change (3rd ed). Guilford Press.

Smith, J. A. (1995). Chapter 2 - Semi-structured interviewing and qualitative analysis. In J. A. Smith, R. Harre, & L. van Langenhove (Eds.), Rethinking Methods in Psychology (1st ed., pp. 10-26). Sage Publications.

Author Note

This essay was originally posted as a discussion forum post for TSD 6660 - Narrative Research as a part of my Ph.D. studies in Transformative Studies at the California Institute of Integral Studies.