Informal Interviewing

Characteristics of Informal interviewing

  • The interviewer talks with people in the field informally, without use of a structured interview guide of any kind. 
  • The researcher tries to remember his or her conversations with informants, and uses jottings or brief notes taken in the field to help in the recall and writing of notes from experiences in the field. 
  • Informal interviewing goes hand-in-hand with participant observation. 
  • While in the field as an observer, informal interviews are casual conversations one might have with the people the researcher is observing.

When to use Informal Interviews

Informal interviewing is typically done as part of the process of observing a social setting of interest. 

These may be best used in the early stages of the development of an area of inquiry, where there is little literature describing the setting, experience, culture or issue of interest. 

The researcher engages in fieldwork - observation and informal interviewing - to develop an understanding of the setting and to build rapport. 

Informal interviewing may also be used to uncover new topics of interest that may have been overlooked by previous research.

Recording Informal Interviews

Since informal interviews occur 'on the fly,' it is difficult to tape-record this type of interview.  Additionally, it is likely that informal interviews will occur during the process of observing a setting.

The researcher should participate in the conversation.  As soon as possible, he or she should make jottings or notes of the conversation.  These jottings should be developed into a more complete account of the informal interview.  This type of account would tend to be included in the researcher's fieldnotes. 

Developing fieldnotes soon after an informal interview is recommended. Even with good field jottings the details of an informal interview are quickly lost from memory. 


Interviews can be done informally, and 'on the fly' and, therefore, do not require scheduling time with respondents.  In fact, respondents may just see this as 'conversation.' 

Informal interviews may, therefore, foster 'low pressure' interactions and allow respondents to speak more freely and openly. 

Informal interviewing can be helpful in building rapport with respondents and in gaining their trust as well as their understanding of a topic, situation, setting, etc. 

Informal interviews, like unstructured interviews, are an essential part of gaining an understanding of a setting and its members' ways of seeing. 

Informal interviews can provide the foundation for developing and conducting more structured interviews.

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