Example Questions to Ask in an Ethnographic Interview

Continuing on in my quest to share my UNT applied anthropology thesis experience, today I will be discussing questions to ask in an ethnographic interview.  While there is certainly no exact template, I will share what I used for my semi-structured interviews. But first, let me explain a bit more about the process of developing and refining my interview script.

Developing Questions to Ask in an Ethnographic Interview

After getting my ethnography proposal approved by my potential client, Sequencing.com, I was then able to move forward with the remainder of the research project planning, including devloping the semi-structured interview script. Since the goal of the project was to develop a rich understanding of consumer’s perspective of genomic products, I had planned to talk with consumers of genealogy and health genetic products.

It was assumed there may be a certain about of overlap between the two groups, especially around things such as perceptions and understanding of genetics, but it was also assumed there would be some specific differences as well. Given this, I essentially had two groups to interview, and likewise, I created two scripts. The two scripts shared about 50% of the questions, and about 50% was specific to the experience of genealogical or health tests.

I started by documenting all the possible questions I might wish to ask. I based these on my literature review, as well as what I already knew about taking genealogical or health tests per my own experiences. I created these in a relational database that I had already created during my literature and tagged them with the potential group(s) that I may ask the question of, as well as theories the questions related back to.

Refining Your List of Questions to Ask in an Ethnographic Interview

Once I developed my master list of potential interview questions, I started to prioritize the list based on what I thought was most important to my research based on the approved research proposal. In the proposal, I had documented the high-level research questions I would be investigating, and thus I wanted to make sure my interview script would address those questions. In my case, my interview questions were:

  1. What beliefs, values, lifestyle, priorities, needs and wants contribute to an interest in consumer genomics?
  2. What is the motivation for consumers to make use of consumer genomics?
  3. What is required to overcome any gaps in understanding genomics, to get consumers to make use of genomics?
  4. How does the genomic data need to be transformed and presented to create educational opportunities and meaningful insights that consumers can apply to improve health outcomes?
  5. What beliefs, values, lifestyle, priorities, needs and wants contribute to changing behavior in anticipation of achieving a positive health outcome?
  6. How do consumers feel about sharing and owning their data?
  7. What ethical and privacy concerns do consumers have?

After comparing my potential list of interview questions to my research questions, I had to throw out some interview questions I thought would be interesting to investigate because they didn’t support my research questions. One such example centered around the social networking features of genealogical websites like Ancestry and 23andMe. I am sure it would have been an interesting thread to follow, but in a research project, we can’t focus on everything.  We need some constraints if we are to finish on time, on budget, and answer the questions agreed to in the proposal.

That is not to say my semi-structured interviews did not allow the participants to speak freely, or that I did not follow any tangential ideas they offered. I most certainly did, but at the outset, it is still our responsibility to create a script that sticks to our plan. Below is the actual script I used with the genealogy group.

Genealogy Group Interview Script

You will be asked to participate in a genealogy genomics interview and an observation session that will take approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour. The interview will be conducted via a conference voice line. During the interview, we will ask for permission to record the audio. The audio will be used to create accounts of your expectations and experiences. Your identity will be kept completely confidential. Pseudonyms will be created and used for all individuals who participate in this research. Signed consent forms will be required to be signed prior to starting the research. The signed consent forms and analysis documents will be stored in separate locations. Video, audio, and/or still photos will be stored in a locked cabinet after it is recorded. Computer records will be password protected. The confidentiality of your individual information will be maintained in any publications or presentations regarding this study.

  1. How did you first learn about the concept of genetic tests for genealogy?
  2. What did you think when you first learned about it?
  3. Can you tell me about the specific genetic genealogy tests you have taken in the past?
  4. How did you hear about that test(s)?
  5. What was your reaction when you learned about the test(s)?
  6. What made you interested in taking the test(s)?  
  7. Did you have any specific goals or outcomes you wanted to achieve?
  8. Did you trust what you heard about the tests, be it verbally, in print, online, etc?
  9. Did you review the company’s website? What did you think?
  10. Did you read any of the privacy policies or terms of use? If yes, what were your thoughts?
  11. What did you expect to learn the test? Learn about ethnicity or relatives?
  12. What was your reaction to the ethnicity analysis?
  13. How did you feel after the test?
  14. Did it help you better understand yourself and your personal identity in any way?
  15. Did you use any of the social networking features to interact with relatives (distant or close)?
  16. Did you contact any of the matches, and if yes, what were your interactions like?
  17. How did it feel to learn of potentially new relatives?
  18. Did learning about these relatives help you better understand yourself in any way?
  19. Do you think that the sequencing and analysis of your data were accurate?
  20. Did you understand the results that you received?
  21. If yes, can you tell me more about how you used the results? Would anything have made them more usable?
  22. If no, can you tell me what may have helped you to better understand the results? A different type of reporting, educational videos, professional articles, professional consultation with an expert?
  23. Did you share the results with anyone, be it on the screen, in print, via email, etc?
  24. If yes, what made you want to share the data?
  25. How did you feel after you shared the data?
  26. Do you trust the company with your data?
  27. Who do you think should own the data, you or the company that provided the test?
  28. Do you have any concerns about the data being on public servers?
  29. How do you feel about your data being used for research?
  30. How would you feel it the company sold or turned over genetic data to marketing companies?
  31. How would you feel it the company sold or turned over genetic data to pharmaceutical companies?
  32. How would you feel it the company sold or turned over genetic data to insurance companies?
  33. How would you feel it the company sold or turned over genetic data to employers?
  34. How would you feel it the company sold or turned over genetic data to law enforcement?
  35. Do you think you should be compensated in some way if your data is sold or turned over to some other group or company?
  36. Did you know that you could download your raw genetic data? 
  37. If yes, have you ever done it or do you think you would ever do that, and why?
  38. Do you think the government should regulate what types of test should be offered?
  39. Do you think the government should regulate what the company can do with your data?
  40. Would you ever use this information to analyze anything related to health
  41. Have you ever looked into any companies that could provide that service? Why/Why not?
  42. Is there anything I didn’t ask that you want to tell me?


Also published on Medium.

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