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  • Interviews
    • Structured interviews
      • Effectively oral questionnaires
      • Often used in conjunction with quota sampling, researchers go out on streets and stop people who fall into the categories chosen
      • Increases reliability – interviewer’s role is restricted, thus interviewer bias is minimized
    • Interviews are mainly qualitative
      • Used if subject is a complex one which needs exploring
      • Most structured is tightly organised
      • Highly unstructured is more like a conversation
      • Semi-structured has series of set questions but can probe for more
    • Three special types.
      • Oral history interviews – about specific events, usually link up with secondary data
      • Life history interviews – people recount their lives, links to secondary as above
      • Group interviews – similar re. validity and reliability to focus groups. Can study group dynamics, e.g. Mac an Ghaill’s work on masculinity in schools, group of gay students discussed experiences of school
    • Reliability
      • Interviews involve interaction, personal dynamics affect things e.g. differences in age, gender, ethnicity, social class, education etc. the less structured, the greater the impact of these factors
      • Reliability is therefore directly related to the degree of structure. Difficult to compare the more unstructured they are
      • However, any misunderstandings can be checked immediately in a way you can’t do with a questionnaire. In this way, it can be more reliable
    • Representativeness and generalisability
      • Qualitative research usually more concerned with validity
      • Interviews seen as being less generalizable but there is a much higher response rate as the process is personal
      • Interviews have high levels of validity. Unstructured interviews uncover meanings and untangle complex views, less likely to lie than on questionnaires. However, researcher imposition (interviewer bias) is an issue, affects ability to compare. Respondents may wish to please, impress or mislead. Interviews rarely used for personal or embarrassing issues
      • The language the researcher uses is also an issue, especially in interviews where they may inadvertently ask leading questions – value-laden and supported by facial expression, gesture etc
    • Advantages of interviewing
      • Can pick up non-verbal cues
      • Can see if they’re lying
      • Higher response rate
      • Can take place where interviewees feel comfortable
      • If structured, can be reliable
      • If less structured, can allow for exploration – gains validity
      • Ethical issues: trust needs to be established, interviewee needs confidentiality
      • Recording: transcription is very time-consuming. However, note-taking prohibits the interview. Transcripts are often analysed by software. Provides independent evidence to support claims – can be used by other sociologists who wish to replicate the research


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