Return to:   The Interview Method
The interview method is a conversation with a purpose.

The Interview MethodThe interview method of research is a conversation with a purpose and is non-experimental in design. The interviewer in one-to-one conversation collects detailed personal information from individuals using oral questions. The interview is used widely to supplement and extend our knowledge about individual(s) thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Or how they think they feel and behave. Interviews can give us both quantitative and qualitative data about participants' thoughts, feelings and behaviours. This is due to the standardisation and/or free ranging nature of questions asked. The more structured or standardised interview questions are, the more able you are to get quantitative data. Quantitative data is reliable and easy to analyse. The less structured and freer ranging the interview questions the more qualitative your data becomes. Qualitative data is difficult to analyse and is not as reliable. There are two categories of interview, the structured interview and unstructured interview. The key feature of the structured interview is in the pre-planning of all the questions asked. Structured interviews also allow for replication of the interview with others. You can then generalise what you find out to the population from which your interview sample came. Structured interviews are conducted in various modes: face-to-face, by telephone, videophone and the Internet. There are three types of structured interview. The structured interview itself, the semi-structured interview and the clinical interview. A major feature, and difference, is the degree to which each use standardised and unplanned questions. Standardisation helps the reliability of your results and conclusions. The more use of unplanned questions, the less structured the interview becomes. Unplanned spontaneous questions are a key feature of the unstructured interview. Spontaneous questioning is more responsive to the paricipant. However spontaneous questioning does not allow for generalisation. Spontaneous questions can also be accused of generating invalid results and conclusions. Thus standardisation v. the free ranging nature of questions is both the main advantage and disadvantage of the interview method of research, in general and in particular. sampling bias.

Compare the types of interview, at a glance
Type of Interview
Structured Interview

  • Restrictive questioning leads to restrictive answers.

  • Insensitive to participants' need to express themselves.

  • Validity of questions asked. Are they the right ones?
Semi-structured Interview

  • Standardisation of most questions gives quantifiable data.

  • Replication.

  • Data is therefore reasonably reliable.

  • Ability to ask some spontaneous questions is sensitive to participants need to express themselves.

  • Its use of an occasional spontaneous question makes these answers difficult to quantify and analyse.

  • Spontaneous questions asked of some and not of others can be seen as unfair, especially in personnel selection.
Clinical Interview

  • Flexible, responsive and sensitive to participants.

  • Preparation of core questions should ensure validity.

  • Core questions and responses should be reliable and analysed easily.

  • Difficult to replicate.

  • As a result an inability to generalise your findings to a wider population.

  • Possible interviewer bias in their use of leading spontaneous questions.
Unstructured Interview

  • Flexible, responsive and sensitive to participants.

  • Relaxed and natural for those taking part.

  • Highly detailed and ecologically valid qualitative data.

  • Difficult to replicate.

  • As a result, an inability to generalise your findings to a wider population.

  • Possible interviewer bias in 'selective' use of leading, and spontaneous questions.

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