8.3 Qualitative Interviews

Contributed by Dr. Sara Champlin

As you read in the previous section, health and wellness topics vary considerably from person to person and are shaped by many external factors. For this reason, an appropriate methodology for collecting a language corpus is the implementation of qualitative interviews or storytelling. This allows the participant to express themselves and their lived experiences. 

Simultaneously, however, within language documentation, we are interested in the occurrence and use of specific words and phrases. To that end, linguists seek commonalities across interviews so that you may identify key words and phrases used in this context. The development of an interview script, or a list of flexible, open-ended questions can help you to guide the conversation with each participant. This is often described as a semi-structured interview guide because it provides a flow for the conversation, but is not so rigid that every participant will answer the same exact questions. 

Within the context of health communication, in many cases, researchers may be interested in just one aspect of health, such as diet or exercise, and create an interview guide that focuses on this one topic. As the linguist, you can make this decision based on the extent to which documentation about health and wellness already exists in the language and the goal of your project. If you decide to address a specific health topic, you may consider searching and reading specifically about that topic within your culture or community of focus to ensure you have the beginning knowledge about the topic, which can help shape the types of questions you will ask in the interview.

In qualitative interviews, the linguist, documenter, or interviewer plays an important role, but not one of discussant. In this context, the interviewer is an active (rather than passive) listener. The interviewer is not present to simply ask questions, but to facilitate conversation with the participant. The interviewer thus plays the role of an active listener, heeding participant responses and considering how to pose engaging follow-up questions. Especially in the context of health and wellness, an interview can come across as quite disjointed, awkward, even offensive for the participant if the interviewer is simply reading a list of questions without considering whether the participant feels they have had a sufficient opportunity to express their experiences. 


Rabionet, S.E. How I learned to design and conduct semi-structured interviews: An ongoing and continuous journey. The Qualitative Report, 16(2), 563- 566. 

Rowley, J. (2012). Conducting research interviews. Management Research Review, 35(3/4), 260 – 271. 

DeRoche, K.K., & Lahman, M.K.E. (2008). Methodological considerations for conducting qualitative interviews with youth receiving mental health services. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 9(3).