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The development of the research questions

Authors of this page:Dawn Clarke and Graham R. Gibbs

Affiliation: University of Huddersfield

Date written: 27th July 2008




Learning outcomes

  1. Learn


Frances developed her first set of questions largely from her own experience of having a whiplash injury. These included the factors that prompted her to go and seek medical advice, to find out what was going on. They were experiences that did not coincide with her professional knowledge.

Full detail of the initial interview schedule is here.

Nevertheless she started the interviews with a set of questions about the accident her respondents had experienced in a way that is very much like the medical case examination.

She began by asking respondents,

  • Can you tell me about the accident?
  • If not was it because they were too upset?
  • When did they seek medical treatment? 
  • Where did they go?
  • Why did they go?
  • How were they taken there?


Loudspeaker iconFrances justified these questions.

So I wanted to understand how they felt about their accident and receiving their injury, and what led to their decision to decide to go and seek medical help given that a lot of people who’ve been in an accident, certainly the rear shunt ones, won’t all have symptoms from a whiplash.


These questions were designed to give Frances a context in which the accident occurred and the background about why they - the participants - sought help. Owing to the nature of the research Frances only asked these questions in the first interview because these details would remain the same. She was also aware that recalling the accident may prove stressful for some of the participants which was a point for consideration in her research design. (Discussion of this can be read in her ethics section of her thesis.)


The next section of questions was about the participants' experiences of health care. The questions she asked focused around the following: (Full interview schedule is here.)


  • Who did they see about the treatment they were given or they were not given?
  • What  information did they receive?
  • How did they feel about their Health Care?


Loudspeaker iconFrances explained why she asked those types of questions:

I wanted to understand what that influence, if any, was from Health Care on what their experiences were. So then it was whether they [the patients] found it helpful and appropriate, so there were little probes that were put in there.


Frances was interested in the effects of the whiplash injury as it became apparent over time. She asked similar questions at each interview, but at the last added some more that would enable respondents to refect on their experience over the whole period.


Loudspeaker iconFrances explained how she encouraged respondents to be reflective:

One of the things I asked at each interview was looking at what their [the accident's] impact was, so one of the things was ‘what’s been the biggest impact of your injury for yourself and your family? But at the final interview I asked them a question like:


  • If somebody came to you and said this has just happened to me what would your advice be to them?
  • What would you say to them?
  • If it was to happen to you again what would you do knowing what you have gone through?
  • What would be the kind of advice that you would give to them really?’ 



What Frances did in her design was to allow time for the effects of the whiplash injuries to take place and then develop her final interview to explore this further. In short she used the same data collection method – semi-structured interviews, but tailored them over a period of time to elicit the relevant data. For example, she asked about the details of the accident in the first interview to give a background and contex but not in subsequent interviews. She maintained a core set of questions and then developed a further set for the final interviews. She developed the questions from her own experience and by analysing the data from the earlier interviews.


            Frances used her professional experience to formulate the questions but she was aware that it could create bias. Therefore she developed her interview schedule accordingly using a systematic approach and open-ended questions, as she further explained:


Loudspeaker iconFrances explained how she tried to avoid her own understanding dominating the inteviews:

I think, partly because of my background, I used the transcripts [from the first set of interviews].  So I chose to follow my interview schedule because it would be so easy for me to go off into a medical dialogue or way of understanding and gathering the information and it wasn’t about the medical aspects but it’s so easy for me to go off and do that because that’s where I’ve spent the majority of my working life. And also I didn’t want my views of health care to come across in the interview, because I didn’t want to be influencing what they said. I left it with ‘how do you feel about that’ and left it to them [the participants] without trying to go too far down that particular road, because I didn’t want to cloud things that might come out [of the interviews].


Frances was also aware that she needed to ask the questions in a manner that the participants were able to express their personal opinions. as she explained:


Loudspeaker iconFrances explained how she allowed particpants to express their views.

So they [the participants] were allowed to criticize health care, and allowed to be positive about it as well and I think it was really important that I as the person who worked in health care didn’t jump in to defend what was being said or to support what was being said, just to leave it [the participants opinions] hanging there.  And so for me in a sense holding the interview guide acted as a barrier, I was a researcher, I wasn’t there as nurse or a health visitor or a counsellor or somebody who’d had an injury themselves I was there as a researcher and that’s what I used the [interview] schedules for, to hold me together.


There are many issues that need to be considered in a research design. It is not just a question of what is going to be researched, how, why, and with whom, using which methodology and method(s). What also needs to be taken into account are factors such as bias – in Frances' case arrising from personal and professional experience – and reliability and validity.


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The resources on this site by Graham R Gibbs, Dawn Clarke, Celia Taylor, Christina Silver and Ann Lewins are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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