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Data collection techniques: Interviews

Social scientists distinguish between structured and semi-structured interviews. Structured interviews (used in market research surveys) acquire data from relatively large numbers of people. The instrument for data collection is a questionnaire, administered in a consistent way by one or more interviewers, or for self-completion by post or on-line. The crucial point is that each participant is asked exactly the same questions, which are worded very precisely and consequently data can be aggregated. Generally the interviewee will be presented with a pre-determined range of possible responses (closed questions). Such data (if appropriate sampling techniques are used) are amenable to quantitative analysis (inferential statistical techniques and generalisation to population level). There is little scope for participants to articulate ideas which are beyond the boundaries of the questionnaire.

Semi-structured interviews, the commonest type of interview in qualitative research, produce data for qualitative analysis. Semi-structured interviews are also based on a pre-determined series of questions (the interview schedule), many of which are open questions. The interviewer has the latitude to adapt the interview in response to the interviewee’s replies and is not constrained by the framework developed a priori. The interviewer can prompt the interviewee, probe the answers they give to obtain greater understanding of the interviewee’s perspectives and understanding, and ask spontaneous or unplanned questions as new issues are raised by the interviewee. The process is thus somewhat like a conversation. The interviewer plays an active role in the interview, co-constructing meaning with the participant. Braun and Clarke (2013, p79) write that ‘it is neither possible nor desirable to attempt to minimise the interviewer’s role. The interviewer should reflect on how their practices and values may have shaped the data produced.’

The proceedings are recorded by means of note-taking and/or an audio recording which must be transcribed prior to coding and analysis.

A number of variations exist including Delphi studies and laddered interviews.

This following sources were used to prepare this paper:

  • Braun V. & Clarke V. (2013) Successful Qualitative Research. A practical guide for beginners. London, Sage.
  • Bryman A. (2012) Social Research methods. 4th ed. Oxford, OUP.
  • Gomm R. (2004) Social Research Methodology. A critical introduction. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan
interviews.txt · Last modified: 2015/02/18 17:02 (external edit)