An interview guide, or aide memoire, is a list of topics, themes, or areas to be covered in a SEMISTRUCTURED INTERVIEW. This is normally created in advance of the interview by the researcher and is constructed in such a way as to allow flexibility and fluidity in the topics and areas that are to be covered, the way they are to be approached with each interviewee, and their sequence. The interview guide normally will be linked to the RESEARCH QUESTIONS that guide the study and will cover areas likely to generate data that can address those questions.
An interview guide is a mechanism to help the interviewer conduct an effective semistructured interview. It can take a variety of forms, but the primary consideration is that it enables the interviewer to ask questions relevant to the research focus, in ways relevant to the interviewee, and at appropriate points in the developing social interaction of the interview. An interview guide should help an interviewer to make on-the-spot decisions about the content and sequence of the interview as it happens. This means, for example, deciding whether a topic introduced by the interviewee is worth following up, when to close a topic and open a new one, whether and when to reintroduce something mentioned earlier in the interview, and when and how to probe for more detail. It also usually means deciding on the spot how to word a question in the specific context of a particular interview, rather than reading from a script.
This level of flexibility and specificity cannot be achieved with a standardized list of interview questions, and thus an interview guide should be distinguished from an INTERVIEW SCHEDULE, which contains a formal list of the questions to be asked of each interviewee. Instead, an interview guide might comprise topics headings and key words on cards that can easily be shuffled and reordered. It might include examples of ways of asking about key issues, but it will not list every or even any question in detail. It might include some of the researcher's hunches, or specific issues or events that would be worth probing should they arise. It might include a checklist of areas, or perhaps interviewee characteristics, to ask about at the end of the interview if these have not arisen before.
The quality of an interview guide is dependent upon how effective it is for the researcher and the research in question, rather than upon abstract principles. Therefore, it is vital that interview guides are tested out in a PILOT STUDY and modified accordingly.