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Last updated on 12/5/18

Write notes and document the experience

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Documentation is key because it allows you to get as much as possible out of each interview. This means writing down anything from notes and observations, to direct quotes or terms the interviewee says. A simple notebook and pen is all you need to start!

Whenever possible, work in teams when conducting interviews. This not only helps divide the workload, but it's beneficial to your research to have multiple perspectives when reflecting on and analyzing data. Every person involved will notice and observe different details, which will help make the data you collect richer.

Examining an interview through documentation

From a documentation perspective, ideally two researchers will be present during an interview. One person will lead the questioning, while the second will act as a scribe who takes notes. This allows the interviewer to really focus on the topic at hand rather than trying to do two things at once.

When getting started, it's a good idea to introduce yourselves and say what your roles will be during the interview. Let your informant know that you'll be taking notes.

As much as possible try to write down direct quotes. Speaking through the words of your user is more powerful than paraphrasing. Quotes are an excellent storytelling device which help bring the problem to life. Words are another way to exemplify the idea of "show, don't tell." Quotes are also a great way to add a more human and personal touch to research, which helps bring the subject matter to life.

Another option is to write super quick notes – or key words – while interviewing.  You can expand on these as soon as the informant leaves.

If you don't have the luxury of having two people conducting an interview – to serve as a question asker, and note taker, as well as serving as a second set of ears – make sure you block off time to write notes immediately after the interview is complete. If not, you risk confusing what you've learned in one interview with another.

If I'm the one taking notes during interviews and observations, as much as possible I like to add small symbols like stars, or use a different color pen as I go.  These visual cues indicate that I may want to come back to this idea.

Creating a record of your interview

Beyond hand-written notes, you also want to think about creating additional documentation. During an interview, you may miss things the first time around. You may be too focused on thinking about what your next question will be, or you may accidentally zone out for a second and are too embarrassed to ask the informant to repeat what they said. Therefore, consider recording your interview either through audio or video. Thankfully, both techniques are much more affordable these days!

In order to create an audio recording, all you need is a smartphone or a pocket-sized recording device. You do not need expensive professional equipment or a sound studio.

In an ideal world, you'd create a transcription, which is a typed text record of each interview. However, due to time constraints, this is not always possible. When working on professional jobs, there are transcription services that can do this for you. You can then mark up and highlight a transcript to denote key insights and "takeaways" from what you've learned.

Not every interview will need a video recording , but for certain subject matters you may find it very helpful. You also can edit it to create a "highlights reel" to share with your team. The benefit of a video recording is that you can see the emotional and behavioral response to a question, which can help unlock additional insights. 

Finally, you'll want to be sure to snap a few photos of the setting and the interviewee. (More photography tips are in the course Communicating Ideas Through Storytelling and Design.) Photos will not only help spark your memory, they're also beneficial for sharing and giving context to team members who were not present at the interview.   Always ask permission beforehand, or include it in the waiver that participants sign. 

Most importantly, take the time to interpret your research. Analyze the data and findings, then share a document or presentation with key stakeholders. We'll cover how to go about this in part 2 of this course!

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement