Laddered questions and qualitative data research interviews

J Adv Nurs. 2002 Feb;37(3):273-81. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2648.2002.02086.x.


Background: Nurse researchers frequently make use of open interviews in their studies, hoping to understand the private world of respondents, and in particular the ways in which thought and behaviour are connected to each other. Unfortunately, there is scant guidance on how to translate such goals into the specifics of interview technique, particularly the use of probing questions. The success of such interviews rests on working ethically and understanding the respondents needs during interview.

Aims: This paper explains a technique designed to direct the use of probing in interviews, and argues that its selective use might provide richer data than other ad hoc approaches employed by neophyte researchers.

Conclusion: It is argued that the technique increases the awareness of the researcher to ethical concerns and enables her or him to respond more sensitively. Laddered question technique is evaluated with reference to my own research into the negotiation of student support amongst nurse distance learners.

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic / methods*
  • Interviews as Topic / standards
  • Nursing Research / methods*