Interviewing people about potentially sensitive topics

Nurse Res. 2011;19(1):12-6. doi: 10.7748/nr2011.


Aim: This paper explores the challenges of interviewing people about sensitive topics. It uses existing literature and the first author's experience of interviewing women traumatised by having an emergency hysterectomy following a severe postpartum haemorrhage. It also highlights the strategies that can assist interviews.

Background: Interviewing participants about sensitive topics requires skill and special techniques. Certain research topics have the potential to cause participants and researchers distress and discomfort. Identifying ways to prevent vicarious traumatisation and researcher burnout is imperative to the integrity of the research.

Data sources: Twenty one Australian women took part in in-depth, tape-recorded, face-to-face, email, internet and telephone interviews.

Review methods: This is a methodology paper on the first author's experience of interviewing women on potentially sensitive topics.

Conclusion: Some participants may find telling their stories to be cathartic, providing them with a sense of relief. Implementing techniques that may be helpful in initiating the interview process can be challenging.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hysterectomy / nursing*
  • Hysterectomy / psychology*
  • Interviews as Topic / methods*
  • Nursing Methodology Research / methods*