10.5: Conducting Interviews and Surveys

In the next section, we’ll learn how to locate secondary sources. Often, however, your workplace research will ask you to create original research, such as conducting interviews and surveys. The quality of the data you get will depend on the questions you ask and the planning you do.

Note that we will not be engaging in this type of research for our Research Proposal and Research Report for COMM 6019, though. You simply won’t have enough time to conduct your own surveys and interviews and write your assignments in the time you have. However, if you find surveys relevant to your topic in the research articles you read, you can use the data — just make sure you explain to what extent that information applies to your specific topic/ scenario/ situation.

Conducting Ethical Research

If you conduct scholarly research, such as research that will be published in a peer-reviewed journal, you’ll first have to get approval from a Research Ethics Board. This board will ensure that your research will be beneficial and won’t harm anyone. Unless you are a specialized researcher, you likely won’t need research ethics board approval in the workplace. That doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t consider ethics.

To conduct research ethically, you should consider the risk you’re placing your participants under. Specifically, you can consider the following aspects:

  • How might my research cause harm?
  • How can I limit this harm?

Harm doesn’t just mean that the person will be physically injured. Even seemingly innocuous survey and interview questions can expose people to risk. For example, say you work in H.R. and you are designing a survey to solicit feedback from a team about their manager. If your survey isn’t carefully designed to preserve anonymity and circulated with care, the manager could figure out who submitted a particular piece of negative feedback and retaliate against that person.

Minimizing harm also extends to emotional harm. If you are going to ask sensitive questions that might upset someone, you should notify them in advance so that they can decide if they want to answer these questions. Survey and interview participants should also be able to opt out from answering questions.

You should also take care to store survey data safely. For example, if your workplace receives government funding, you may not be allowed to store client data on servers outside of Canada.

Surveys vs. Interviews

When deciding what type of primary research to do, you should consider your purpose. In general, interviews give you qualitative data (data that can’t be measured and is often descriptive). For example, you might interview someone whose career you admire to get career advice about how to become a business analyst. Surveys give you quantitative data (that can be measured). For example, you might do a survey of 100 business analysts to find out what percentage of them are happy with their jobs and what are their top five reasons for job satisfaction/ dissatisfaction.

Asking Useful Questions

Whether you are doing a survey or an interview, think carefully about the questions you ask. When you design your questions, ensure the following:

  • Have a clear purpose: For example, if you want to confirm what you already know or sort survey participants into categories, you would ask a closed question, such as “Have you shopped at our store in the past month?” Closed questions can be answered with a yes or no. If you want a detailed answer, you should use an open-ended question. These are questions that begin with Who, What, Where, When, How, or Why and require more detailed responses.
  • Research in advance: Knowing what questions to ask usually takes experience or research. For example, if you have an informational interview with a business analyst to get career advice and you’ve got only 30 minutes, you’ll want to make those count. Read this person’s bio on the company website or checking out his/her LinkedIn profile or social media presence in order to be able to ask more useful, specific questions. Instead of asking, “What university did you go to?” you could ask, “What was your experience with UBC’s program? Would you recommend this program to others?”
  • Keep it simple: Especially if you are doing a survey, ask clear, simple questions. Also, ask only one question at a time. Show your questions to a colleague and revise them to make sure that they can be easily understood. If some participants misunderstand your question, your data will be skewed.
  • Word your questions neutrally: Remember that you are researching to find out something new, not to confirm what you want to hear. Neutral questions don’t make assumptions and are open to a wide range of answers. For example, in 2019, The White House released a survey that asked the question “Do you believe that the media is engaging in a witch hunt to take down President Trump?” It’s clear which way the people who wrote the survey question wanted participants to answer.


TNW News. (2019, January 17). Trump’s media bias poll might be the most biased thing I’ve read in 2019. https://thenextweb.com/news/trumps-media-bias-poll-might-be-the-most-biased-thing-ive-read-in-2019


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10.5: Conducting Interviews and Surveys Copyright © 2021 by Melissa Ashman; Arley Cruthers; eCampusOntario; Ontario Business Faculty; and University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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