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Prompts, Not Questions: Four Techniques for Crafting Better Interview Protocols

Qualitative Sociology

We offer effective ways to write interview protocol “prompts” that are generative of the most common types of information researchers wish to learn from interview respondents: the salience of events, attributes, and experiences; the structure of what is normal; perceptions of cause and effect; and views about sensitive topics. We offer tips for writing and putting into practice protocol prompts that we have found to be effective at obtaining each of these kinds of information. In doing so, we encourage researchers to think of an interview protocol as a series of prompts, rather than a list of questions, for respondents to talk about certain topics related to the main research question(s). We provide illustrative examples from our own research to show how generally minor tweaks to typical interview prompts result in richer interview data.