H. Russell Bernard
(2000) specified seven seven different kinds of probes that can be used in, what he called, qualitative interviews.
1.Silence. This probe involves being quiet once an interviewee appears
to have finished answering a question, perhaps nodding your head,
and waiting for an interviewee to continue and add more to the topic
they were discussing. It provides interviewees with time to reflect.
Allowing silence to endure in an interview can be very difficult for
interviewers, but effective if used sparingly.
2. Echo. This is where an interviewer repeats the last point that the
interviewee has said, and is useful especially when they have been
describing a process or event. Bernard asserts that this probe shows
the interviewee that you have understood what they have said so far
and encourages them to continue and expand.
3. Uh-huh. Saying 'yes', 'I see', 'right' and so on as an interviewee talks
affirms what the interviewee has said. It can act rather like silent nodding
of your head.
4. Tell-me-more. After an interviewee has answered a question, this
probe encourages interviewees to expand and go further through
follow on questions along the lines of 'Why do you feel like that about
it?' 'Can you tell me more about that?' 'What did you mean when you
said . . .?' 'What did you do then?' etc.
5. Long question. These sorts of probes can help at the beginning of
interviews in the grand tour mould. Bernard gives the example of
when he asked sponge divers he was interviewing, 'Tell me about diving
into really deep water. What do you do to get ready, and how do
you ascend and descend? What's it like down there?' (Bernard, 2000, p. 198). He
also says that threatening or sensitive questions (he gives the example
of condom use) can benefi t from a long rambling run up to them.
6. Leading. These are directive probes—though as Bernard points out,
any question leads in an interview. The idea of asking leading questions
is often treated in introductory methods textbooks for students
as if it were an anathema, with concerns about 'bias'. The assumption
is that if you ask a leading question then the answer you get will be
produced by the way the question is put: such as 'do you think that
this is a really bad way of behaving?' Qualitative interviewers with
experience, however, know that this is rarely the case. Interviewees
are perfectly capable of telling you that you do not understand what
they mean; that actually they don't 'think it's a really bad way of
behaving' at all.
7. Baiting. Bernard says this sort of probe is a 'phased assertion' in which
the interviewer acts as if they already know something. He contends
that either people then feel comfortable opening up or are likely to
correct you if they think that you have got the wrong idea.
Bernard also provides advice on dealing with interviewees who either say
too much or too little during an interview. 'Verbal' interviewees are very
likely to go off at a tangent as they tell you much more than you need
to know for your research topic. He recommends 'graceful' interruption
and moving the interview back on track. 'Non-verbal' interviewees provide
monosyllabic or 'don't know' responses to questions. As Bernard says:
'[S]ometimes you can get beyond this, sometimes you can't.' If you can't,
then it is best to 'cut your losses' (Bernard, 2000, p. 200). Indeed, often qualitative
interviewers can feel themselves to be failures if they have to give up on an
interview but this is not the case. There is little to be gained by continuing
on for the sake of it and ending an interview may sometimes be the wisest
course of action.