Primary sources- Interviews


Interviews involve an interviewer interacting with participants in the research. Sometimes there may be more than one interviewer or two or three interviewees. Interviews may take place:

• face-to-face

• over the telephone

• using text messaging

• online

• using video-conferencing facilities so those involved are not in the same location but can see each other

• via social networking websites

• in a focus group, where several interviewees respond to questions.

An interview is a useful research method for example, when:

• detailed information is required

• knowledge and understanding are being sought from a specialist

• the population sample is very small

• participants may have difficulties completing a questionnaire

• a wide range of experience is being investigated

• the information being sought is not sufficiently predictable to be gathered using a structured questionnaire.

Structured interviews

In a structured interview, the interviewer has preprepared questions, which are put to the interviewee.

The interviewer writes down the answers given by the interviewee, possibly using a structured template, which may involve ticking boxes and recording a summary of what the respondent is saying.

Unstructured interviews

An unstructured interview is not constrained by preprepared questions. Instead the interviewer will have identified some broad topics to ask the interviewee about but will then use follow-up questions, according to the answers provided by the interviewee. This approach enables the interviewer to probe specific aspects in detail, to check understanding, return to points already mentioned, etc. Unstructured interviews are therefore time-consuming and it is more difficult to standardise the technique if several interviewers are involved. Also, it is difficult for the researcher to concentrate on what responses the interviewee is giving, if these have to be written down at the same time. It is therefore quite common for such interviews to be audio-recorded but there the interviewee would need to give explicit consent for the interview to be recorded. Alternatively, a scribe could be present solely to record what is said but this may affect the interviewee’s responses. After the interview is over, the interviewer listens to the tape again and prepares a transcript


Produce a table outlining the strengths and weaknesses of using interviews to gather data. Include examples of when you should or shouldn't use interviews to gather information in different research areas (e.g. not suitable for a chemical reaction, suitable for gathering opinions on something)

Last modified: Monday, 30 Mar 2020, 14:19