Interviewing involves asking questions and getting answers from participants in a study.  Interviewing has a variety of forms including: individual, face-to-face interviews and face-to-face group interviewing.  The asking and answering of questions can be mediated by the telephone or other electronic devices (e.g. computers). Interviews can be structured, semi-structure or unstructured. 

In this section, we discuss five different types of interviews:

Structured Interviews

Semi-Structured Interviews

Unstructured Interviews

Informal Interviews

Focus Groups

There are a number of ways to classify interviews by type.  Consider reading about all the different types of interviews, since these distinctions are somewhat artifical, and there are important similarties and differences across these types. 

Developing the interview guide

Whether you are conducting a structured or unstructured interview, the development of the questions you ask takes into consideration:

  • the focus of your inquiry (research question)
  • what you want to learn from the person you're speaking with
  • how much time you have and the kind of access you have
  • how much you already know about your question, and how to manage this knowledge

All interview guides are developed iteratively - questions are developed, tested, and then refined based on what one learns from asking people these questions. 

When conducting semi-structured or unstructured interviews, the interviewer develops a 'loose' guide, with general questions designed to open up conversation about the topic.  Often, this includes a series of follow-up questions or probes, prepared in advance, in order to elicit certain types of information from the informant.

It is important, however, to recognize that the interviewer must be a good listener, and that the best probing is that which is responsive, in the moment, to what the interviewee is saying.

Silence (on the part of the interviewer) is golden and can give the interviewee time to think and speak.

It is good design to have analysis and collection of interview data iterate, such that an interview is conducted and examined prior to additional interviewing in order to:

  • Look at what kind of talk or discussion emerges when questions are asked, identifying questions that might need to be refined
  • Identify new experiences shared by the interviewee that need to probed in subsequent interviews
  • Identify who else one may want to interview -- remaining open to the possibility that interviewees may identify informants the researcher will want to interview
  • Reflect on the interviewer's role, preconceptions and behavior during the interview in order to make any needed adjustments

A number of resources (below) provide excellent guidance on the development of research questions. 


The following resources were used and can be reviewed by those interested in more information of the topic of interviewing.

Bauman, LJ. & Greenberg, E. (1992). "The use of ethnographic interviewing to inform questionnaire construction." Health Education Quarterly. 19(1), 9-23.

Bernard, HR. (1988). Research methods in cultural anthropology. Sage Publications.

Briggs, CL. (1986). Learning how to ask:  A sociolinguistic appraisal of the role of the interview in social science research.  Cambridge University Press.

Britten, N. (1995). "Qualitative Research: Qualitative interviews in medical research." BMJ. 311: 251-253.

Chirban, JT. (1996). Interviewing in depth: The interactive relational approach. Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage Publications.

Gubrium, JA, & Holstein, JA. (2001). Handbook of interview Research: Context and Method. Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage Publications.

Finlay, WML & Lyons, E. (2001). "Methodological issues in interviewing and using self-report questionnaires with people with mental retardation." Psychological Assessment. 13(3), 319-335.

Fontana, A. and Frey, JH. (1994). "Interviewing the art of science" in NK Denzin and YS Lincoln (eds) Handbook of Qualitative Research, pp. 361-376.

Hoddinott, P. & Pill, R. (1997). Qualitative research interviewing by general practitioners. A personal view of the opportunities and pitfalls. Family Practice. 14(4), 307-312.

Kvale, S. (1996). InterViews: An Introduction to Qualitative Research Interviewing. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Kvale, S. (1983). The qualitative research interview: A phenomenological and hermeneutical mode of understanding. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology. 14(2), 171-196.

McCracken, G. (1998). The Long Interview. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Rubin, HJ., Rubin, IS. (2004). Qualitative interviewing: The art of hearing data. 2nd Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage Publications.

Warren, CAB., Karner, TX. (2005). Discovering qualitative methods: Field research, interviews and analysis.  Los Angeles, CA, Roxbury Publishing Company.

Spradley, JP. (1979) The Ethnographic Interview. Holt, Reinhart and Winston.

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