An Introduction to Research Interviews

Interviewing for research is so much more than just a conversation. Deciding if the interviews are a good fit for your research, picking the right people to interview, preparing a questionnaire are all important steps to succeed. We prepared the "Research Interviews - The Ultimate Guide Series" to assist you from A to Z in interviewing.

In this six blog post series, we cover the best practices in interviewing, from preparation, to analysis. The following is the first blog post, an introduction to different types of interviews. 

Table of Contents

  1. An Introduction to Research Interviews (You are here)
  2. Interview Sampling: How do I find people to interview?
  3. Good questions to ask while interviewing
  4. Interview techniques and how to record interviews
  5. Transcription: How to transcribe interviews?
  6. How to analyze qualitative interviews?

How do I know if I should use interviews in my research project?

You have chosen a fascinating topic, maybe you want to know more on people's perceptions of climate change, or why they choose a certain product over another.

Now, what?

You should use interview method when you are interested in capturing feelings, ideas, thoughts and experiences of your participants. These information are difficult to access from official documents, or sometimes even through surveys.

Interviews are valuable for providing new information on topics that are not researched before, giving new ideas to researchers.

In deciding between the surveys and interviews, you can ask the following to yourself:

  1. Do you have sufficient background information on a topic?
  2. Are you looking for the personal narratives of the participants?
  3. Do you know the most of the possible answers the participants might give you?

If your answers are positive to these questions, then survey design rather than the interviews might be a better option for you. For those who would like to gather more diverse information on their topic of choice, interview is the method to use.

What are the different types of Interviews?

There are three main kinds of research interviews.

1. Structured Interview

This interview type only includes predetermined questions. The interviewer prepares a set of questions to ask during the interview and strictly follows them. There are no follow-up or on-the-spot questions.

It is most useful if there are a high number of interviews to be held, and if you would like to compare the results easily. However, these type of interviews can be frustrating for interviewees as it limits their ability to speak freely.

2. Semi-structured Interview

The interviewee has predetermined questions in semi-structured interviews, however they are accompanied by follow-up questions that arise during the interview. It is the best alternative if you have some interests in a topic and speculations on which aspects of the topic are interesting, however still would like to discover further through interviewees' knowledge. It is also easier for interviewees to be a part of semi-structured interviews as they are closer to real-life conversations.

3. Unstructured Interview

In unstructured interviews, there are non or only a couple predetermined questions, but a topic to discuss. This type is most frequently chosen during the early stages of research, or when the interviewer doesn't want to prime the interviewee with their questions.

Once you have decided that interviewing is the right method for your research, you should start the sampling process which is choosing the right people to interview. For a comprehensive guide on sampling and preparing consent forms, check our next blog post in the series: Interview Sampling: How do I find people to interview?

Ece Kural's profile picture

Ece Kural

PhD Candidate @ Stockholm University