Inerviews are a method of eliciting answers to predetermined questions from one individual at a time. It is used for gathering specific pieces of data or sets of information for analysis. Different formats and types of questions can be used to fit a given situation. Interviewing is one of two basic components in ethnographic research; the other is observation.
There are four major types of interviewing that fall within a continuum of control that is exercised over people's responses:
Characterized by a lack of structure or control. Researcher recalls conversations and writes these down afterwards. Used by scientists to familiarize themselves with a new environment.
A clear plan is present but minimum control is exercised over responses. This allows interviewees to express themselves in their own terms, at their own pace, uses open-ended questions. Often used in ethnography. Common strategy when time is not a limiting factor.
Similar to unstructured interviews, but interviews are conducted using introductions and a list of questions in a specific order. Researcher may use a combination of open and close-ended questions. This structure is necessary to acquire reliable, comparable qualitative data when interviews are administered by more than one individual. Used when there are limited opportunities to interview or when multiple simultaneous interviews are required.
Characterized by the use of identical questions with a range of choices to answer from; close-ended questions. This type of interview requires less experience to administer than the other interview types, can be done in a fixed amount of time, and provides results that are easy to quantify. Structured interviews, however, can only be used if the researcher has a good understanding of the subject and relevant issues.
Can be inexpensive and convenient
Establishes rapport to increase the accuracy and honesty of answers
Captures the full range and depth of information
Can be time consuming and expensive depending on the number of people and whether transcripts of recorded interviews are required
Presence of interviewer can bias responses
Can be difficult to analyze and compare
Translations of recorded interviews may be needed if performed in native language
Less structured interview techniques require active listening skills of the interviewer. With added complexity, this technique may require some assistance from skilled interview designers.
Related Tools and Methods
Resources: Books and Publications
Gubrium, J.F. and J.A. Holstein. 2002. Handbook of Interview Research : Context & Method. Thousand Oaks, California : SAGE Publications.
A Guide to Interview Guides
Detailed guidelines on conducting interviews.
Conducting the Information Interview
A tutorial organized in seven modules. Links to additional resources are also included.
General Guidelines for Conducting Interviews
This resource from the Free Management Library for nonprofits and for-profits includes general guidelines for conducting research interviews and includes information on preparation, types, questions, carrying out the interview, and other useful information.