types of interviews

structured interviews

  • positivist
  • based on strcutured, pre coded questionnaire
  • a formal question and answer session
  • quantitative data
  • aim to be reliable as they can be repeated

unstructured interviews

  • interpretivist
  • a guided conversation with the interviewer having a mental list of topics to cover
  • qualitiative data
  • attempt to emphasise validity- in depth information
  • small scale less reliable
  • very dependent on the skills of the researcher

semi structured interviews

  • each interview uses the same set of questions, but the interviewer has the freedom to probe the responses of the participant
  • more reliable
  • extra questions are not pre-set
  • more valid than structured
  • allows deeper questioning

groups interviews/focus groups

  • interviewer encourages participants to discuss topics and issues with one another
  • often focused on political issues of the day

type of interview used depends on:

  • type of data required
  • topic area being investigated
  • sensitivity of the topic area
  • level of validity being sought
  • level of reliability being sought
  • skills of the researcher
  • concerns of interviewer bias

suitable topics

  • structured interviews- simple, straightforward, factual information, a respondent's age, gender, educational qualifications, occupation
  • group interviews- effects of long term imprisonment, victims of crime, conflicts within organisations, changes in working practices among steel workers

structured interviews


  • if the respondent is unsure about something, the interviewer can explain things
  • standardised- helps make the data reliable
  • data can be collected more quickly
  • presence of the researcher can improve response rates


  • more time consuming
  • presence of the interviewer might result in interviewer bias
  • respondents may give socially acceptable answers rather than telling the truth
  • rigid interview schedule can limit the opportunity for the respondent to explain or discuss their answers

unstructured interviews


  • absence of a tightly defined schedule allows a discussion to develop- can allow the interview to explore issues in great detail
  • more natural setting- more openness and honesty = more valid
  • respondent is able to answer in their own words
  • face to face nature- interviewer might be able to notice if the respondent is telling the truth or not, body language can be observed
  • answers are not restricted to a sheet of paper- more likely to use open questions, allow respondents to elaborate their views and feelings

sensitive groups

  • some groups are less likely than others to provide information for researchers
  • might be suspicious of outsiders, hostile, afraid, uncomfortable
  • provides an opportunity for understanding and trust to develop

sensitive subjects

  • respondents may be more likely to discuss sensitive and painful experiences if they feel that the interviewer is sympathetic and understanding

respondent's viewpoint

  • offers greater opportunity for respondents to take control, define priorities and direct the interview into areas which they see as interesting and significant
  • greater chance to express their own viewpoints
  • can lead to new and important insights for the researcher

validity and depth

  • if respondents feel at ease they will be more likely to open up and say what they really mean
  • more likely to produce valid data and richer, more valid and more colourful data
  • allow interviewers more opportunity…


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