Interviewing involves oral questioning of respondents, either individually or as a group. This is a face-to-face or personal interview method and requires a person, the interviewer, asking questions to the other person, the respondent. The questions are usually initiated by the interviewer who then records the responses, as shown in Figure 12.2.
The collection of information through personal interviews is usually carried out in a structured way. Structured interviews involve the use of a set of predetermined questions in an interview schedule (list of questions) and use standard techniques of recording the respondent’s answers. These are usually written in a notebook (ideally a tape recorder would be used, but this is not always available). The interviewer asks the questions in a prescribed order and the respondent gives answers in their own words. The interviewer is allowed to ask ‘follow-up’ questions only if something the respondent says is not clear, or if the question wasn’t understood, but otherwise keeps to the questions on the interview schedule. An example of a possible structured interview question and a follow-up question are given below:
‘If you or a female relative is expecting a baby, would you prefer the labour and delivery to be at home or in the Health Post? Can you say why?’
Note that when presenting questions like the one above, it is important not to ‘prompt’ the respondent (i.e. suggest or hint at a possible answer) because this might influence their response. They may try to give you the answer they think you want to hear.
In contrast, unstructured interviews are characterised by a flexibility of approach to questioning. An example of an unstructured interview question is given below:
‘Please tell me about giving birth to your first child.’
In unstructured interviews you do not follow a system of pre-determined questions, but simply begin a conversation with the respondent on a particular topic. The respondent is free to explore the topic in their own words and in their own way, without being restricted by specific questions that must be answered. The interviewer can prompt the respondent to say more with phrases such as ‘Tell me more about that’ or ‘This is interesting – please go on’, but does not ask specific questions about the topic.