Design of Interviews

Self-Report Methods – Interviews

Interviews are often more like a conversation. The interviewer has some questions he wishes to ask on a specific topic, but there are no predetermined way of asking questions and no pre-set order in administering them.

Interviews involve researchers asking questions in a face-to face situation. They can be very different but there are two broad types:

(1) Structured (or formal): A questionnaire is read to participants and the interviewer writes down their responses.

(2) Unstructured (or informal): Less controlled involving an informal discussion on a particular topic (more like a conversation)

Interviews – Structured interviews: The design of structured interviews are similar to the design of questionnaires. The only real difference is the presence of the interviewer. Because of the interviewer’s presence, experimenter effects can significantly affect the results. (However, these effects are more pronounced in unstructured interviews).

Interviews – Unstructured Interviews: Unstructured interviews are not standardised. The researcher has several topics to cover, but the questions are not usually pre-set. Unstructured interviews are less formal, more open-ended, flexible and free flowing than structured interviews. The key to successful unstructured interviews is trust. (respondent must feel the researcher is sympathetic and interested in their opinion.

Problems that can occur when carrying out interviews:

Experimenter Effects: The personal and social characteristics of the interviewer can affect the respondent’s answers. Some researchers suggest matching interviewers and respondents in terms of age, gender, ethnicity and social class on the assumption that they are more likely to “open up” to people that they perceive are similar to themselves.

Demand characteristics: Unstructured interviews are very susceptible to demand characteristics, experimenter/ investigator effects and social desirability effects because of the face-to-face element in this research method.

Reliability: In general, reliability for unstructured interviews is low – two different interviewers may well receive different data from the same participant. Validity in Interviews However, it is argued that their validity is high – because they are more likely to provide rich data and reveal the true meanings which direct behaviour. N.B The same issues apply for questionnaires and structured interviews.

Evaluation, AO3 of self-report interviews:


(1)POINT: A strength of using an interview is that it gains the respondents viewpoint. This means opportunities are provided in an interview for respondents to give their own point of view in their own way. EXAMPLE: For example, in an interview they are able to talk about things which interest them rather than simply responding to pre-set questions in a pre-defined manner. EVALUATION: This is positive because these more personalised responses can produce new and important insights.

(2) POINT: A strength of using interviews is that it produces qualitative data. This means that interviews can produce rich, in-depth and detailed qualitative data. EXAMPLE: For example, if the respondent feels that the interviewer is sympathetic and understanding towards them, respondents may feel secure enough to provide a great amount of detail about themselves. EVALUATION: This is positive because more detail creates a more representative impression of the respondent.



(1) POINT: A weakness of carrying out an interview is that it collects qualitative data which can be difficult to analyse. This means that it is difficult and time consuming to analyse much of the data that is provided by interviews. EXAMPLE: For example, in-depth and detailed responses to questions from different respondents are very difficult to compare with one another. EVALUATION: This is problematic because it leads to a very time-consuming process of analysis.


(2) POINT: A weaknesses of carrying out an interview is that often investigator effects are present. This means that because interviews involve face to face contact between researcher and participant, the researcher may affect the participant’s behaviour. EXAMPLE: For example, the researcher may unconsciously convey their hypothesis to the participant through their tone of voice or facial expressions. EVALUATION: This is a problem as it can have an effect on the way participants behave and answer the questions creating an unrepresentative impression of themselves.