Conducting user intercept interviews for SecureDrop


Under the impulse of @ei8fdb the SecureDrop UX team recently took an interest in improving how we get input from users. I’m a developer for SecureDrop and my first time conducting a proper user interview will be … this monday :slight_smile:

Fortunately @belenbarrospena and @ei8fdb provided a script I can follow and my only worry is about taking notes properly. It will be in a café and although I don’t expect it will be very busy… that won’t be a good environment for recording the conversation.

If anyone has advices that would help a newbie, I’ll take them !

Thanks in advance

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Great that you give it a try! The script looks great, I think you are well prepared.

A) Notetaking: Here is my strategy, consisting of two steps:
1- Take notes in the interview. Don’t write carefully, grammatically correct. Only write verbatim if the words of the participant are super interesting to you. You do it right if it looks messy :wink:
2- Essential 2nd step is talking time directly after the interview to correct, clarify, rewrite your notes, basically clearing up the mess and filling in gaps etc.

If I invest the time for step 2 I usually get rich interesting data. Have a look at for a description of note taking and audio recording (If anything is unclear: Write me and I improve the book)

B) If your participant agrees, record nevertheless. Sometime uncertainties concern only some parts in which even a mediocre audio can help. Smartphone is fine, even better is a dedicated audio recorder (since they can have a directional microphone – less backbround noise)

C) The hardest part for beginners seems to be to ask open questions that encourage participants to tell stories and describing situations they have been in. Just in case you struggle: It happens and is part of the learning.

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@jdittrich thanks for the wise advices and for the educative book !

You will ask questions aiming for descriptions and longer answers. So you will be listening to the participant most of the time. You probably have some ways to intuitively show that you listen—like nodding with the head or saying “yes” or “mm-mhh”. This is an important way to ensure the participant that their information is listened to and valued.

That gave me pause: I have to be careful to listen and not being too focus on the script and taking notes. The interviewee is a journalist and I’m sure he will be amused to see me struggle trying to properly interview him :wink:

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Any first experiences? How was it like? :slight_smile:

I’m a little disappointed because the journalist did not agree the interview to be published for everyone to see. But… it went well :slight_smile: Of course it was a little messy but in the end the result was good because I did not expect what they said. Needless to say the “yes” or “mm-mhh” part did not happen, that will be level 2.

Regarding C) it was not too much of a problem because the script was good and I did not get to improvise. The additional questions were sometime useful when the answer to the main question was a little short. Regarding B) I recorded and you were right: despite the music and the noise, the conversation was good enough and helpful during the transcript. Finally, A) went ok but … I focused too much on my screen and the journalist mostly looked at me typing which was not great. I hope I’ll improve that part because it is probably awkward for the person talking.

I’ll do at least four other interviews at IFF: that was good training.

Thanks for the advices!

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