Interview in Research

There are many instances in our lives where we engage in an interview — for example, a job interview or an interview to join school clubs. In business, interviews are also common. Marketers mostly use them to research customer behaviour and collect original data for marketing purposes. In this article, we'll explore the characteristics, types, formats, advantages, and disadvantages of interviews in research. We'll also discuss the ten steps of conducting successful interviews and the importance of having clear objectives when using interviews as a data collection method. So, whether you're new to interviews in research or looking to improve your existing methods, read on to learn more about this valuable technique.

Interview in Research Interview in Research

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Table of contents

    What is an Interview in Research?

    An interview is a qualitative research method used to collect primary data. It involves asking one or more people about their opinions on a company, a product, or a topic. This method allows researchers to obtain detailed information that might not be available through other research methods.

    Qualitative research focuses on exploring and understanding people's experiences and perspectives through observation and interviews, while quantitative research focuses on numerical data and statistical analysis to describe and measure phenomena.

    Interviews can be used in a wide range of research fields, including social sciences, psychology, health sciences, business, and education. The data collected from interviews is often transcribed, coded and analyzed to identify patterns, themes, and trends that can inform research findings, theory development, and policy recommendations.

    An interview is a research method that involves asking questions to collect data from individuals who have knowledge, experience or opinions on a particular topic or subject matter.

    A researcher is conducting a study on the effects of social media on mental health. They want to interview people who use social media frequently to understand their experiences. The researcher sets up a meeting with an interviewee and asks them a series of questions about their social media usage, how it affects their mood, and if they have noticed any changes in their mental health since using social media. The researcher records the interview and uses the responses to gain insight into the relationship between social media and mental health.

    Check out our explanation on Primary Data Collection to learn more about primary research methods.

    Characteristics of Interviews in Research

    Some of the key characteristics of interviews in research include:

    • Personal: Interviews are usually conducted face-to-face, over the phone, or through video conferencing, allowing for personal interaction between the researcher and the participant.
    • Interactive: Interviews are a two-way conversation between the researcher and the participant, allowing for follow-up questions and clarifications.
    • Qualitative: Interviews are a qualitative research method, focusing on subjective experiences, opinions, and attitudes of participants.
    • In-depth: Interviews can provide in-depth information on a research topic, allowing for a thorough exploration of complex issues and phenomena.
    • Contextual: Interviews can provide contextual information on a research topic, giving insight into the cultural, social, and historical factors that may influence the topic.
    • Time-consuming: Conducting interviews can be time-consuming, requiring significant planning, preparation, and follow-up.

    Types of Interviews in Research

    There are three main types of interviews to research customers:

    • structured,
    • unstructured
    • semi-structured interviews.

    The interview format varies, from face-to-face to online, one-on-one to focus groups.

    Structured interviews in research

    The first type of interview in research is a structured interview.

    A structured interview is one where the researcher asks the participants a list of questions that have been prepared in advance.

    These questions are closed-ended and appear in a set order. The respondents are expected to answer yes, no, or a short response. Sometimes, they might choose from a pre-selected list of answers.

    Some examples of questions in a structured interview are:

    • Do you shop online often?
    • What are two products you often shop for online?
    • Which website do you use to shop online?
    • How likely are you to recommend this website to others?
    • How much do you spend on online shopping per month? (Less than £100 / £100 – £500 / £500 – £1000 / More than £1000)

    A structured interview is like a survey or questionnaire. However, it is conducted verbally rather than in written form.

    Structured interviews can be used in both explanatory and exploratory research. Their "uniform" nature allows the researcher to spot significant trends in consumer behaviour.

    A structured interview also saves time as the questions only have to be prepared once and repeated in multiple interviews. However, the rigid structure might limit spontaneity and in-depth responses.

    Unstructured or non-directive interviews in research

    The opposite of structured interviews is unstructured interviews. Unstructured interviews do not rely on prearranged questions but follow up based on interviewees' responses. Unstructured interviews are sometimes called non-directive interviews. "Non-directive" means not prepared/prearranged. The interview has no structure or scoring. It is conversational. The researcher can ask anything they want, depending on the interviewees' responses.

    The questions are often open-ended to encourage people to express themselves and give honest feedback.

    Here are some examples of unstructured interview questions:

    • Describe a negative shopping experience you had.

    • Describe a positive shopping experience you had.

    • What is your biggest challenge while shopping online?

    • Why do you shop online with us?

    • How could we improve our service?

    Like structured interviews, the main goal of an non directive interview is to collect customer data. However, it does so in a more friendly and conversational way.

    Non directive interviews give researchers a lot of flexibility but can be time-consuming to conduct. They create a friendly atmosphere that allows participants to open up. They are more exploratory than directive (structured) interviews. However, the lack of structure can make the participants wander off and provide irrelevant information.

    Semi-structured interviews in research

    A mix of structured and unstructured interviews is called a semi-structured interview. Semi-structured interviews include a list of predetermined questions, yet not set in order. The interviewer can choose what to ask depending on the situation.

    Semi-structured interviews maintain a reasonable degree of flexibility and validity. Researchers can collect more detailed responses yet not commit as much time and effort as in an unstructured interview.

    Structured InterviewNon-structured InterviewSemi-structured Interview
    Ordered questionsyesnoyes
    Fixed questionsyesnosome
    Types of questionsclosed-endedopen-endedclosed and open-ended
    Flexibilitylowhighhigh

    Table 1. Comparison of different interview methods, StudySmarter Originals

    Interviews in Research Formats

    All three types of interviews above can be conducted in different formats: focus group, one-on-one, online, and phone.

    Focus group

    A Focus group is an interview format that includes a moderator and a group of participants meeting face-to-face. The method allows the researcher to observe the participant's body language and engage in interesting conversations. It is easy to prepare focus group meetings, and the results are often reliable. The only drawback is that small sample sizes might not represent the entire group.

    interview in research focus group StudySmarterFig. 1 - Focus group

    One-on-one interview

    The opposite of a focus group interview is a one-on-one interview. This is where the interviewer speaks to only one person at a time. This method can remove distractions and group bias but takes more time and effort to set up interviews with multiple people.

    Online interview

    Both focus groups and one-on-one interviews can be conducted online through video-conferencing tools such as Zoom and Google Meetings. Online interviewing saves time, money, and effort and allows the business to engage people from different parts of the world in real-time.

    Interview in research Zoom meeting example StudySmarterFig. 2 - Online interview

    Phone interview

    If in-person or online interviews are not viable, there is another quick way to collect customer opinions— phone interviewing. This method does not always guarantee a response, though it is relatively cheap and does not require the participants to meet face-to-face.

    Importance of Interviews in Research

    The importance of interviews in research lies in the fact that they provide a valuable source of data for researchers to gain insight into complex and nuanced phenomena. Interviews allow researchers to collect detailed information about participants' experiences, opinions, and attitudes in their own words, providing a richer understanding of the research topic than other data collection methods. Additionally, interviews can be tailored to the specific needs of the research project, allowing researchers to ask follow-up questions or explore unexpected topics as they arise.

    Interviewer bias

    While interviews are an effective primary source, they are subject to interviewer bias and errors. Interviewer bias happens when the interviewee lets his subjectivity (personal opinions, thoughts, attitudes) affect the research outcome.1 For example, the interviewer reacts differently around interviewees from different backgrounds or asks leading questions.

    The best way to avoid interviewer bias is to use an interview guide and make the interview process more structured. An interview guide is simply a document that defines the structure of the interview - what questions to ask and in which order. This ensures the same experience for all interviewees.2

    Advantages of Intreviews in Research

    When conducting qualitative research, interviews are a valuable tool for gathering rich and in-depth data that captures the complexity of participant's experiences and perspectives. Interviews offer several advantages, including the ability to probe and clarify participants' responses, establish a rapport with participants, and tailor the interview to the specific needs of the research project.

    Rich and detailed data

    Interviewing allows researchers to collect rich and detailed data about participants' experiences, attitudes, and perspectives: Unlike surveys or other quantitative data collection methods, interviews provide researchers with the opportunity to collect rich and detailed data that captures the complexity and nuance of participants' experiences, attitudes, and perspectives. This can provide valuable insights into the research topic and help researchers to develop a deeper understanding of the phenomena under study.

    Clarification and probing

    Interviews enable researchers to probe and clarify participants' responses, leading to a deeper understanding of the research topic: One of the key advantages of interviews is that they allow researchers to ask follow-up questions or seek clarification when participants' responses are unclear or ambiguous. This can help to ensure that the data collected is accurate and complete, and can lead to a deeper understanding of the research topic.

    Tailored to research needs

    Interviews in research can be tailored to the specific needs of the research project, allowing researchers to ask follow-up questions or explore unexpected topics as they arise: Interviews are flexible and can be tailored to the specific needs of the research project. This allows researchers to ask follow-up questions or explore unexpected topics as they arise, providing a more holistic understanding of the research topic.

    Establish rapport and trust

    Interviews help establish a rapport between the researcher and the participant, leading to a greater level of trust and openness: Interviews can help establish a rapport between the researcher and the participant, leading to a greater level of trust and openness. This can be particularly important when studying sensitive or personal topics, as participants may be more comfortable discussing these issues with someone they trust.

    Useful for sensitive topics

    Interviews can be particularly useful when studying sensitive or difficult topics, as participants may be more comfortable discussing these issues in a one-on-one setting: Interviews can provide a safe and confidential space for participants to discuss sensitive or difficult topics. This can help to ensure that participants feel comfortable and willing to share their experiences, leading to more accurate and complete data.

    Disadvantages of Interviews in Research

    Although interviews can yield rich and detailed data, they also have some drawbacks that researchers must consider. Interviews can be time-consuming and resource-intensive and may be subject to interviewer bias or social desirability bias. Additionally, the interviewer's communication style can impact the willingness of participants to share their experiences or perspectives.

    Time-consuming and resource-intensive

    Conducting interviews can be time-consuming and resource-intensive, particularly when conducting multiple interviews with a large number of participants: Interviews can be time-consuming and resource-intensive, particularly when conducting multiple interviews with a large number of participants. This can make it difficult to collect data in a timely and cost-effective manner.

    Interviewer bias

    It may be subject to interviewer bias, where the interviewer's personal beliefs or attitudes influence the way they ask questions or interpret participants' responses: Interviews are conducted by human beings and are subject to interviewer bias. This can occur when the interviewer's personal beliefs or attitudes influence the way they ask questions or interpret participants' responses, potentially leading to inaccurate or incomplete data.

    Social desirability bias

    An interview may be subject to social desirability bias, where participants may provide socially acceptable responses rather than their true thoughts or feelings: Participants may be inclined to provide socially acceptable responses rather than their true thoughts or feelings in order to please the interviewer or avoid social disapproval. This can lead to inaccurate or incomplete data.

    Influenced by communication style

    An interviewee may be influenced by the interviewer's communication style, which could impact participants' willingness to share their experiences or perspectives: The interviewer's communication style can impact participants' willingness to share their experiences or perspectives. For example, an interviewer who is perceived as judgmental or dismissive may discourage participants from sharing their true thoughts or feelings.

    Unsuitable for some research

    Interviews may not be suitable for all research questions or contexts, particularly when seeking quantitative data or when studying topics that are difficult to verbalize: Interviews may not be suitable for all research questions or contexts. For example, they may not be appropriate for collecting quantitative data, or for studying topics that are difficult to verbalize, such as emotions or physical sensations.

    10 Steps of Conducting Interviews in Research

    Define objectives

    Clarify the research objectives and determine the type of information needed from the interview. Identify the research question the interview will address and the goals the interview intends to achieve. Ensure that the research objectives are clear, focused, and achievable.

    Gather a list of targets

    Identify the target population for the study and gather a list of potential participants. Determine the inclusion and exclusion criteria for the study and identify potential participants who meet these criteria. Consider using a random sampling method to select participants.

    Develop a recruitment screener

    Develop a screening tool to identify participants who meet the inclusion criteria. The screener should be used to recruit participants and designed to ensure that the selected participants meet the study's inclusion criteria. The screener should also give participants an overview of the study and obtain informed consent.

    Design an interview guide

    Develop an interview guide or script that outlines the questions to be asked. Include open-ended questions to allow participants to share their experiences and perspectives. The interview guide should be designed to ensure that the research question is addressed and that the goals of the interview are achieved.

    Fieldwork

    Conduct the interviews with the selected participants. Ensure that the interview environment is quiet and free of distractions. Introduce yourself to the participant and explain the purpose of the interview. Use active listening skills to ensure that the participant feels heard and understood.

    Record the interview

    Record the interview using a digital recorder or written notes. Ensure the participant's privacy is protected and the data is stored securely. Transcribe the interview as soon as possible after it is completed to ensure that the data is accurately captured.

    Reporting

    Transcribe the interview and analyze the data using a qualitative analysis method, such as thematic analysis. Identify themes or patterns in the data that relate to the research question. Ensure that the data analysis is rigorous and systematic. Report the findings clearly and concisely.

    Share your findings with the research team

    Host a meeting with the research team to discuss the interview findings. Use the findings to inform the next steps in the research project. Identify any issues or challenges during the interviews and discuss ways to address them.

    Verify and validate

    Verify the data obtained through the interviews to ensure its accuracy and validate the findings through other sources of information. Consider using multiple data collection methods to ensure the findings' reliability and validity.

    Share your findings with other stakeholders

    Use the findings from the interviews to write a research report or publish a paper. Share the findings with stakeholders who may benefit from the research. Consider presenting the findings at conferences or other professional meetings to promote discussion and feedback.

    Objectives of interviews in research

    The objectives of interviews in research can be summarized as follows:

    Collect primary data

    One of the main objectives of interviews is to collect primary data from participants. Interviews provide an opportunity to gather rich and detailed information about a research topic directly from the source. This primary data can be used to explore a range of research questions and hypotheses.

    Exchange ideas

    Interviews can also serve as a forum for exchanging ideas between the researcher and the participant. The researcher can gain a deeper understanding of the participant's perspective and insights by engaging in a conversation. The participant, in turn, can benefit from the researcher's expertise and knowledge of the field.

    Spot patterns and trends

    Another objective of interviews is to spot patterns and trends within the data. By analyzing the responses of multiple participants, researchers can identify common themes and patterns that can help to inform their research findings. These patterns and trends can also suggest new areas of inquiry or generate hypotheses for future research.

    Discover opportunities for improvement

    Finally, interviews can be used to discover opportunities for improvement. By asking participants for their feedback and suggestions, researchers can identify areas where product, service, or policy improvements can be made. This feedback can be used to refine existing offerings or develop new solutions that better meet users' needs.

    Overall, the objectives of interviews in research are to collect primary data, exchange ideas, spot patterns and trends, and discover opportunities for improvement. By achieving these objectives, interviews can provide valuable insights into the research topic and contribute to advancing knowledge in the field.

    Interview in Research - Key Takeaways

    • Interviews are a qualitative research method used to collect primary data by asking one or more people about their opinions, experiences or perspectives on a particular topic or subject matter.
    • Three main types of interviews are structured, unstructured, and semi-structured. Interviews can be conducted face-to-face, over the phone, through video conferencing, and can be done in different formats such as focus groups or one-on-one.
    • Interviews are personal, interactive, qualitative, in-depth, and contextual. They can provide a valuable data source for researchers to gain insight into complex and nuanced phenomena.
    • Interviews are subject to interviewer bias and errors, and the best way to avoid this is by using an interview guide and making the interview process more structured.
    • Interviews offer several advantages, including the ability to gather rich and detailed data, probe and clarify participants' responses, tailor the interview to the specific needs of the research project, establish a rapport and trust with participants, and are useful for studying sensitive topics.

    References

    1. Intervieweer, Interviewer Bias In User Research & Steps To Conquer It, https://www.interviewerr.com/interviewer-bias/, 2019.
    2. Neelie Verlinden, The Interview Guide: 7 Key Elements, https://www.aihr.com/blog/interview-guide/.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Interview in Research

    How to include an interview in a research paper example?

    Interviews are a great primary data source for research papers and projects. To include an interview in a research paper, you must first identify the research objectives, select the interview format, and then contact and interview the chosen interviewees. 

    What is an interview guide in research?

    An interview guide can provide a focus for an interview. It is simply a list of key questions and topics you will cover in the interview. 

    How to avoid interviewer bias in research?

    Interviewer bias happens when the interviewer allows his subjectivity (personal opinions) to affect the research's objectivity. The best way to avoid interviewer bias is to use an interview guide and make the interview process more structured.  

    What are the advantages of interview in research?

    The main advantages of interviews in research include a higher response rate and more comprehensive, in-depth results. 

    What are the disadvantages of interview research?

    The main disadvantages of interview research are interviewer bias and errors. This happens when the interviewer lets his own opinions distort the outcome of the research. 

    Why is an interview important in research?

    Interview is important in research because it allows researchers to collect in-depth and first-hand information from participants.

    What is the purpose of interviews in research?

    The purpose of interviews in research is to gather qualitative data directly from participants to gain insights and understanding on a research topic.

    Why are interviews good for research? 

    Interviews are good for research because they allow researchers to gather rich and detailed qualitative data directly from participants, providing insight into their experiences, opinions, and attitudes on a research topic.

    What research method is interviewing?

    Interviews are a qualitative research method that involves collecting subjective data directly from participants through a structured or unstructured conversation.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Interview is a research method that involves ________________.  

    There are ______ main types of interview in qualitative research. 

    What type of interview includes mostly closed-ended questions?

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