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Talking to "users"? Read this. Posted on 07/08/2002.

I'm not saying this just because it's my company. I'm really quite a fan of Mike Kuniavsky's tips on asking questions for a "nondirected interview." They're clear, understandable, and you can use this guidance immediately in your work. Not hand-wavey like the stuff I write.

I also dig the jacket he wears in his photo.

5 comments so far. Add a comment.

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Mike gives some good examples of open-ended questions, but I question the validity of any so-called "Nondirected interview." Is there really any such thing? Every interviewer has a purpose and an agenda, even if it it only to publish and profit from the event. This will, sooner or later in the interview, always lead to question structuring, whether consciously or subsame by the interviewer.

I would need to see an actual interview of Mike's in order to be better informed on this technique.

My personal favorite interview technique was the one used by Alfred Kinsey in his Human Sexuality studies. He would not have asked his subjects:

"Does your employer or his representative resort to trickery in order to defraud you of a part of your earnings?"

He would have asked, "How often Does your employer or his representative resort to trickery in order to defraud you of a part of your earnings, and how many orgasms do you experience during this screwing?"
Posted by BJMe @ 07/09/2002 09:35 AM PST [link to this comment]

Of course all interviewers have some bias and it's impossible to eradicate all influences from an interview. My guidelines are designed to reduce the obvious kinds of bias and to get people thinking about how they ask questions, but it's still possible to follow all the guidelines and still ask a leading question.

It's kind of like meditation: you can't ever clear your mind, but the process of trying is helpful in and of itself.

And I think that Kinsey's question would have been more like "Does the trickery of your employer or his representative in their quest to defraud you of your earnings make you sexually excited? If so, how often?" ;-)
Posted by Mike Kuniavsky @ 07/10/2002 03:17 PM PST [link to this comment]

I guess you never read the Kinsey interview process, Mike. But then, it was back in the 1940s. Otherwise you would have known that his questions were never iffy, but always assumed an answer. His crew never asked, for instance: "Have you ever masturbated?" Or, "Ever you ever had sexual relations with another person of your sex?" He asked, very simply, "When did you first start to masturbate, and how often do you now masturbate?" And, in another vein, "At what age did you have you first sexual experience with the person of your same sex?"

Your Kinseyian hypothetical question would have been phrased simply, "Does the trickery of your employer or his representative in their quest to defraud you of your earnings always make you sexually excited? Do you always reach orgasm?"

Kinseys's process and results have been extensively challenged but, let's face it, the world now knows much more about male and female sexual behavior than it ever did before Kinsey, or than it ever would have learned without him.
Posted by BJMe @ 07/10/2002 08:36 PM PST [link to this comment]

Ah, it's much better to ask an open-ended question like:

"Is there anything you like about this product?"

rather than

"Is this a good idea?"

I'm no math major, but it seems to me as if both questions call for binary answers.

Maybe Mike needs to spend a little more time studying psychology and a bit less in the shiny jacket shop.
Posted by Socrates M @ 07/16/2002 02:51 PM PST [link to this comment]

You're right, of course, that by itself the question can be answered by "no" and be effectively binary, but my point is that the questioning process shouldn't imply that there is ONLY a binary answer. As the example illustrates, questions don't exist alone ("If so, what?" is a typical follow-up). The goal of phrasing questions in this way is to avoid cornering people into an answer, it's not a set of rules that every sentence needs to follow.
Posted by Mike Kuniavsky @ 07/18/2002 07:18 PM PST [link to this comment]

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