Activity 3.2

Activity: 3.2 Creating Effective Interview Questions

Purpose of Activity:

This activity is designed to guide your group through the process of creating effective interview questions. First participants will learn how to create open ended vs. close ended questions, and will review other interview question tips. Then your group will brainstorm interview questions to use in your interview guide.

By the end of Activity Participants Will:

  • Understand the difference between close-ended vs. open ended questions
  • Understand how to create effective interview questions
  • Develop a list of interview questions to use in your interview guide

Before this Activity Participants Will Need to:

Be updated about your organization’s research plan and timeline

Understand how interviews fit into your overall research project

Tools Needed:

T 3.4: Tips For Creating Effective Interview Questions

Materials Needed:

Butcher Paper


Key Terms:

Interview Questions

Interview Guide

Open Ended Questions

Closed Ended Questions

Intended Participants:

Members and Staff of your Organization

Time Needed:

1 Hour, 15 minutes

Part I: Introducing Open vs. Closed Ended Questions (20 minutes)

Facilitator Instructions:

  1. Explain to the group that today we will be creating an interview guide to use in our research, but before we do that we are going to review some important tips that will help us design good questions for our guide.
  2. Introduce the group to the concept of open vs. closed-ended questions. Describe that interviews are meant to inspire stories and conversation, so usually we want to avoid asking questions that can be answered by just a few words (closed ended questions).
  3. Ask for an example of a closed ended question from the group. If you need to, give an example: “If you ask “do you like living here?” How will people usually answer? With a yes or no.” How could you change that question to get a more thorough response: “What do you like and dislike about living here?”
  4. Next ask participants to work in partners, and ask them to create three examples of closed- ended questions vs. open-ended questions that they might ask their neighbors if they wanted to learn about their landlord. Give participants 5 minutes to create questions.
  5. While participants are writing questions, prepare two sheets of butcher paper with “open- ended questions” and “closed-ended questions” written at the top of the two sheets.
  6. Ask participants to share the questions they came up with and record them on the two sheets of butcher paper.

Part II: Interview Tips (25 minutes)

Facilitator Instructions:

  1. Handout the Tips For Creating Effective Interview Questions sheet (Tool 3.4) to everyone.
  2. Go through the interview tips as a big group, be sure to cover:
    • Using “how” questions vs. “why” questions.
    • How to use clarification questions and probing questions.
  3. Go through the “Questions to Avoid” section as a big group and clarify the following:
    • How to avoid leading questions.
    • How to avoid using loaded terms.
    • How to avoid using questions with multiple elements.
  4. Discuss any other questions that arise from the handout.

Part III: Brainstorming Questions (35 minutes)

Facilitator Instructions:

1. Before the meeting, write your research questions (Activity 2.1 “Developing Research Goals and Questions”) on butcher paper, along with 3 or 4 key categories of information you need to collect in order to answer your research questions.

For example: From the VOCAL-NY Case study, the categories would be:

  • Syringe Exchange Programs
  • Police harassment
  • Access to clean syringes
  • Experience with harm reduction programs

2. Explain that this next activity is for you to brainstorm interview questions to use in your interview guide.

3. Ask a participant to remind the group about the main difference between open-ended and closed ended questions.  If the group does not know, explain again.

4. Next split into 3 or 4 groups (depending on how many categories of info you need) and give each group one category. Make sure each group has pen and paper, and ask for each group to have a note-taker.

5. Give each group 5-7 minutes to brainstorm questions.

6. Have each group share their questions with the larger group, flag the questions that are closed-ended, leading, or have multiple elements as you go, and record on butcher paper.

7. Debrief.  Which questions can be used for interview guide?  Which are less effective? Why? What questions are similar? What themes are developing?

8. After the training: type up the questions as a first draft of your interview guide (see Tool 3.5: Interview Guide Template for guidance).

Activity 3.3

Activity: 3.3 Interview Role Play

Purpose of Activity:

This activity will prepare participants to conduct interviews. Participants will become more familiar with the interview guide by practicing it with each other. This will also enable you to test out and adjust the interview guide if necessary.

By the end of Activity Participants Will:

  • Practice how to conduct an interview
  • Review tips and questions for interviews
  • Get familiar with and troubleshoot the interview guide for your project

Before this Activity Participants Will Need to:

Have created interview questions and a draft interview guide for your project

Understand how interviews fit into your overall research project

Materials Needed:

Butcher Paper




Interview Guide

Recording device and extra batteries

Key Terms

Interview Questions

Interview Guide

Intended Participants:

Members and Staff of your Organization

Time Needed:

1 Hour and 15 Minutes

Part I: Review interview tips (20 minutes)

Facilitator Instructions:

  1. Before the meeting, prepare butcher paper with a column of dos and don’ts
  2. Introduce goal: to troubleshoot a few “what if” scenarios related to the interviews. Go through each scenario and record dos and don’ts that the group comes up with on butcher paper. Go over the scenarios below and any others that are particular to your interview:
    • What if the interviewee doesn’t want to respond to a question
    • What to do with the “I don’t know” response
    • How to deal with sensitive or personal information
    • How to probe for additional information
  3. Debrief

Part II: Interview Role Play (50 minutes)

Facilitator Instructions:

  1. Give each participant a copy of the interview guide that you have created. Describe the goals of the activity (to practice interviewing skills), and address any questions that come up.
  2. Teach participants how to use tape recorders or whatever technology you plan to use to record the interviews.
  3. Split the group up into pairs and instruct them to interview each other. Give each person 10-15 minutes to interview each other, then switch. Encourage participants to write down any questions that come up during the interview process.
  4. Bring the group back together and ask about issues that came up during the role play. Are there any questions that were troublesome? Do any questions need to be changed? Are there any other issues that came up? Record responses on butcher paper.

Tool 3.4

Tool: 3.4 Tips for Creating Effective Interview Questions

Open Ended vs. Closed-Ended Questions

  • Questions that can be answered with a yes or no or one-word answer are closed-ended questions, and should generally be avoided in interviews.  This is because they do not encourage an in-depth response nor will they illicit rich stories and experiences that you aim to collect through interviews.

Examples of closed-ended questions:

    • How long have you lived in your apartment?
    • Do you like your landlord?
    • Have you talked to your neighbors about your landlord?


  • In general, open-ended questions that encourage respondents to describe feelings and tell stories make better interview questions.


Examples of open-ended questions:

  • What are some of your concerns about your apartment?
  • In what ways does your landlord respond to your needs and concerns?
  • How do you feel about your landlord?


Interview Tips

  • Use “how” questions vs. “why” questions when you are seeking descriptions and detailed information. Asking “why” questions often leads to justifications rather than descriptions. “Why” questions are useful for organizing purposes and can agitate or provoke. “How” questions tell you more detailed information and are good for your interviews.
  • Clarification or Probing questions are useful to use when your respondent is discussing something important that you want more information about, or when you are unsure of what they are saying and need clarification. Examples of clarification questions include:
    • What do you mean by____?
    • Can you be more specific about____?
    • When you said____, what does that look like? Can you give me some examples?


Questions To Avoid:

  • Leading Questions are questions that lead interviews to a particular response. Instead of responding with their true opinions, interviewees may respond with what they think you want to hear. For example:
    • Don’t you think that mold in your walls contributes to health problems like asthma or illness?
  • Avoiding Questions with Multiple Elements. Questions that are excessively long and contain multiple elements are confusing and hard to respond to. Interviewees may not know which part of the question to address. For example:
    • How has your landlord responded to tenant’s concerns? Have city authorities supported or ignored you? What role should city authorities play in your dealings with your landlord?

Tool 3.5

Tool: 3.5 Interview Guide Template

NYCAHN/VOCAL – Syringe Access Advocacy Report

UJC/CDP Research and Policy Initiative

Interview Transcription Guide

Interview # ________________

Notes by __________________; date __________________

Section I: Introduction

1. Explain who you are, who VOCAL is and why you are conducting this research.

2. Any questions/comments before we start?

Section II: Background

We’ll start with some background information about you and about syringe access.

3. Tell me a little about yourself:

4. What do you know about people being arrested for having syringes in NYC?

Section III: Experience with police around syringe possession

Next, we’ll talk about your experience and knowledge about people that have been arrested for carrying syringes. …

5. How do you feel about how the police treats people that carry syringes?

6. What has your experience been with the police? Tell me about what happened:

7. How did the experience impact you?

Section IV: Personal narrative regarding syringe use

The next section looks at your personal story of using syringes and SEP/ESAPs.

8. Tell me about your experience as someone who uses syringes:

9. Tell me about your experience with a syringe exchange program?

Section VI: Vision for change

We have one final section, a chance for you to make recommendations to improve the situation with syringe access and police harassment of syringe users.

10. What specifically could be done to improve the situations we’ve discussed today?

Tool 3.6

Tool: 3.6 Informed Consent Form Template

Please consider this information carefully before deciding whether or not to participate in this research.

3.6 En

Purpose of the research:

[Insert a few sentences about the purpose of conducting the research.]

What you will do in this research:

[Insert a few sentences to explain to the participant how they will be participating in the research.  For example: You will participate in a personal one on one interview where you will be asked to answer various questions about your experience as someone that works in a fine dining restaurant].

Time required:

[Insert how long the interview will take.}


Insert any anticipated risks associated with the research.  If there are none, write: there are no anticipated risks associated with participating in this study. Your name and any other identifying information will NOT be shared with anyone.


Write any benefits that will be gained through this research.  For example, at the end of the study we will write a report, which will document your experiences as well the experiences of all of the other restaurant workers who participate in the study.  The report will provide important information on the restaurant industry and what can be improved to make the industry work better for you other members of your organization.


If you are providing compensation for participation, include the amount here.


Your participation in this study will remain confidential, and your identity will not be stored with your data. Your responses will be assigned a code number, and the list connecting your name with this number will be kept in a locked room and will be destroyed once all the data have been collected and analyzed.   Additionally, when quoting interviews, we will simply refer to the quoted individual as “participant #1 (with a random numerical assignment to each participant) so that the person will not be identifiable as working for a particular vendor and the person themselves will not be identified either.

Participation and withdrawal:

Your participation in this study is completely voluntary, and you may withdraw at any time without penalty.  You may withdraw by informing the researcher that you no longer wish to participate (no questions will be asked).


If you have questions about this research, please contact __________________at_________________________.


The nature and purpose of this research have been sufficiently explained and I agree to participate in this study. I understand that I am free to withdraw at any time without incurring any penalty.

Signature: _____________________________________

Date: __________________

Name (print):________________________________________________

Tool 3.27

Tool: 3.27 Tips for Conducting Interviews

Why is this tool useful?

This tool outlines a checklist of materials and some useful tips for conducting interviews. It is important to familiarize yourself with the Interview Guide (See Tool 3.5) prior to conducting the interview to understand what you are trying to get out of the questions. Even if you record the interview and transcribe it after, we recommend also taking notes to keep track of key themes and quotes that stand out to you. These notes can be used later when analyzing your data.

Materials Check List:

q  A notepad and pens or laptop for note-taking

q  Interview Guide (See Tool 3.5)

q  Informed consent form (See Tool 3.6)

q  Demographic Questionnaire

Recording equipment:

q  Digital recorder (test beforehand to make sure it works)

q  Charging wire

Before the Interview:

q  Test the recording equipment. Be comfortable and familiar with equipment;

q  Make sure you have the interview guide and informed consent form ready;

q  Make sure you are in a quiet and comfortable space for the interviewee.

During the Interview

q  Be sure to use clarification or probing questions where appropriate (See Tool 3.4). Examples of clarification questions include:

  • What do you mean by____?
  • Can you be more specific about____?
  • When you said____, what does that look like? Can you give me some examples?

After the Interview

q  If recording, immediately after the interview, make sure the recording has worked. Press Save if your recorder requires that;

q  Type up any notes taken;

q  Store informed consent form in a folder marked “Informed Consent Forms.” 


Case Study: 3.2 VOCAL-NY and CDP Report: Stuck in the System


Background on Organization and Issue

Voices of Community Activists and Leaders (VOCAL-New York), formerly New York City AIDS Housing Network ( NYCAHN), is a statewide grassroots membership organization building power among low-income people who are living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, drug use and incarceration, to create healthy and just communities. VOCAL accomplishes this through community organizing, leadership development, participatory research, public education and direct action.

New York has led the nation in reducing HIV transmission among injection drug users (IDUs) through various syringe access efforts, including syringe exchange programs (SEPs) and the Expanded Syringe Access Program (ESAP) initiative. These lawful programs, which allow properly documented participants to possess sterile or used syringes, reduce the spread of HIV and other blood borne illnesses and improve overall public health. However, for years, the New York State Penal code did not recognize the Public Health Law exemptions that allow SEP’s to operate and consequently, many lawful SEP participants were subjected to harassment, arrest or even incarceration, significantly reducing the effectiveness of these programs.

Members of VOCAL identified syringe access and safe disposal as a priority issue in early 2008 after many reported being harassed and sometimes arrested for lawful syringe possession when stopped and searched by the police.  More than just an annoyance, VOCAL leaders suspected that the Penal Code and law enforcement practices increased the risk of HIV and HCV transmission because drug injectors may be afraid to use syringe access and disposal programs. In order to thoroughly and accurately describe the impact of current policies and practices, VOCAL members decided to conduct a research project, led by users, to document these problems and develop grassroots solutions.

Below is a description of the VOCAL-NY syringe access research project, based on the Participatory Action Research guiding framework (see Tool 2.1 and 2.2).


Were the Organizing Goals connected to this research?

  • To expand access to sterile syringes, encourage proper disposal of used syringes, and improve health outcomes for drug users in New York State.
  • To pass state legislation that would align the NYS Public Health Law with the Penal Code, more clearly ending the criminalization of syringe possession.
  • To humanize and build the power of drug users in NYS.
  • To educate lawmakers, law enforcement and other parts of the justice system about the importance of syringe access in improving public health and safety.

Overall questions did VOCAL want to answer through their research?

  • What experiences do SEP participants have with police in relation to possessing new and used syringes?
  • What impact do the practices of law enforcement have on drug users access to clean syringes and ability to safely dispose of used syringes?
  • What are the experiences of drug users with harm reduction programs?
  • How are the practices of law enforcement towards drug users related to patterns of gentrification in New York City?

Information did VOCAL need to collect to answer these research questions?

  • Stories from participants in Syringe Access Programs to document the need to expand syringe access.
  • Stories from participants in Syringe Access Programs to show the negative effect of police practices on access to syringes.
  • Secondary data about police practices and syringe access to support participant’s stories.


Is this research useful or important for VOCAL?

  • Internally: to develop the leadership of VOCAL members by deepening their understanding of policy related to syringe access and training them in research methods; to build the base of VOCAL members through outreach; allow VOCAL members a space to tell their stories and share their experiences.
  • Externally: to educate law makers, law enforcement, public health officials and others about the impact of police practices on access to syringes and safe disposal; to get media attention towards the need for syringe access; to pass legislation reconciling the NYS Penal Code with the Public Health Law regarding possession of new and used syringes.


Are the Stakeholders in this Issue?

  • Drug users, participants in Syringe Access Programs, public health practitioners and agencies working to decrease the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C and other blood borne illnesses (SEPs, ESAPs, etc).

Was VOCAL trying to influence?

  • Members of the NYS Assembly and Senate, the NYS governor, NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services and all NYS policing agencies, NYS prosecutors, the NYS Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the NYC Mayor.


Did VOCAL gather information (what methods did they use)?

  • VOCAL used one on one interviews to capture the stories and experiences of Syringe Access Program participants.  This method was chosen because of the personal nature of the information that was discussed and the stigma that surrounds injection drug use.  It was also important that current and former drug users were trained to conduct the interviews, to make those being interviewed more comfortable when discussing their drug use and interactions with the police.

How Research Supported VOCAL’s Organizing Efforts

In 2010, The Syringe Access bill AB8396/SB5620, sponsored by Assembly Members Richard Gottfried and Joseph Lentol and Senators Tom Duane and Eric Schneiderman, passed both houses of the NYS legislature and was signed into law by Governor Paterson.  The bill finally aligns the Penal Code with the Public Health Law nearly twenty years after syringe access first became legal in New York, which will reduce both police harassment and unlawful arrest of drug injectors who carry new and used syringes. VOCAL members engaged in consistent advocacy to pass this bill, including regular visits to Albany.  The syringe report and the stories and data it includes were used as a part of this advocacy strategy and provided evidence of the need for and importance of this legislation.

Click here to read the report.