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[Catherine, Dr. Dawson] Introduction to Research M(Bookos.org)

[Catherine, Dr. Dawson] Introduction to Research M(Bookos.org)

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In social research there are many types of interview. The most

common of these are unstructured, semi-structured and struc-

tured interviews. If you want to find out about other types of

interview, relevant references are given at the end of this chapter.

Unstructured interviews

Unstructured or in-depth interviews are sometimes called life

history interviews. This is because they are the favoured approach

for life history researchers. In this type of interview, the researcher

attempts to achieve a holistic understanding of the interviewees’

point of view or situation. For example, if you want to find out

about a Polish man’s experiences of a concentration camp during

the war, you’re delving into his life history. Because you are

27

unsure of what has happened in his life, you want to enable him

to talk freely and ask as few questions as possible. It is for this

reason that this type of interview is called unstructured – the

participant is free to talk about what he or she deems important,

with little directional influence from the researcher. This type of

interview can only be used for qualitative research.

As the researcher tries to ask as few questions as possible, people

often assume that this type of interviewing is the easiest.

However, this is not necessarily the case. Researchers have to be

able to establish rapport with the participant – they have to be

trusted if someone is to reveal intimate life information. This can

be difficult and takes tact, diplomacy and perseverance. Also,

some people find it very difficult to remain quiet while another

person talks, sometimes for hours on end.

In unstructured interviews researchers need to remain alert,

recognising important information and probing for more detail.

They need to know how to tactfully steer someone back from

totally irrelevant digressions. Also, it is important to realise that

unstructured interviewing can produce a great deal of data which

can be difficult to analyse.

Semi-structured interviews

Semi-structured interviewing is perhaps the most common type

of interview used in qualitative social research. In this type of

interview, the researcher wants to know specific information

which can be compared and contrasted with information gained

in other interviews. To do this, the same questions need to be

asked in each interview. However, the researcher also wants the

interview to remain flexible so that other important information

can still arise.

28 Chapter 3 . How to Choose Your Research Methods

For this type of interview, the researcher produces an interview

schedule (see Chapter 7). This may be a list of specific questions or

a list of topics to be discussed. This is taken to each interview to

ensure continuity. In some research, such as a grounded theory

study, the schedule is updated and revised after each interview to

include more topics which have arisen as a result of the previous

interview. (See Chapter 2.)

Structured interviews

Structured interviews are used frequently in market research.

Have you ever been stopped in the street and asked about

washing powder or which magazines you read? Or have you been

invited into a hall to taste cider or smell washing-up liquid? The

interviewer asks you a series of questions and ticks boxes with

your response. This research method is highly structured – hence

the name. Structured interviews are used in quantitative research

and can be conducted face-to-face, online or over the telephone,

sometimes with the aid of lap-top computers.

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