Many people who perform research include interviews in their research process. Interviews allow researchers to gather qualitative data as well as gain insight into the thoughts and behaviors of individuals. If you perform research that will benefit from conducting interviews, there are a number of interview methods you can choose from to design the best approach for your research and data collection.
In this article, we’ll explain seven interview methods you can use in your research, plus steps and tips for conducting research interviews.
What are interview methods in research?
Interview methods in research are different approaches you can use to conduct effective research interviews. Many researchers interview subjects as part of their research process. Conducting interviews can allow you to gain insight into the behaviors, attitudes, and opinions of individuals.
Usually, interviews are most useful for research that is qualitative, which means it focuses more on concepts and experiences than on numerical values. If you want to include interviews in your research, you can choose from several interview methods to use an approach that is well-suited to your specific research.
7 interview methods in research
Here’s a list of seven major interview methods that you can use in your research:
1. Focus group
One popular research interview method is conducting a focus group interview, which involves a group of individuals interviewed at the same time. Focus group moderators usually encourage participants to interact with one another, and they observe the group to gain insights into real attitudes and perspectives.
Often, focus group participants respond more comfortably and naturally, as the group setting can feel more authentic than other interview settings.
2. Structured interview
Structured interviews are another option. Typically, structured interviews comprise closed-ended questions, which are questions that respondents can answer with “yes” or “no.” The interviewer usually asks the exact same questions in the same order to each interviewee. Often, researchers can complete structured interviews quickly, as they follow a standard format that they can easily replicate.
3. Unstructured interview
An unstructured interview, also called an informal interview, is the opposite of a structured interview. In unstructured interviews, the interviewer doesn’t ask standardized questions of each interviewee. Instead, unstructured interviews rely on open-ended questions, which are questions that encourage a longer answer than a simple “yes” or “no.”
In unstructured interviews, the interviewer can also ask follow-up questions and allow interviewees to expand on their answers. Therefore, an unstructured interview is more similar to an authentic conversation.
4. Semi-structured interview
You can also use a semi-structured interview method, which combines pieces of both structured and unstructured interviews. Although interviewers might follow a general plan and set of questions, they often have the flexibility to make changes. This can allow interviewers to be creative in order to get the data that they need for their research.
5. Personal interview
A personal interview takes place in person as a one-on-one interaction between an interviewer and an interviewee. Personal interviews are ideal if you want to speak directly to an individual and cater your questions to them.
You can also ask follow-up questions to gain additional insights. Usually, personal interviews have higher response rates than other interview options, making them ideal if you need to gather a significant amount of accurate data.
6. Phone interview
You can also conduct interviews over the phone. Phone interviews can be an easy way to gather responses. This interview method is also relatively inexpensive, making it ideal if you want to collect data quickly without expending too many resources.
7. Online interview
Online interviews are another research interview option. Online interviews can involve surveys or video chat applications. In this method, interviewers and interviewees don’t have to be in the same location at the same time. This can allow you to collect data quickly from a large group of subjects.
How to conduct interviews in research
You can follow these key steps to conduct interviews as part of your research process:
1. Choose your interview method
The first step to conducting a research interview is to choose your method. It’s also important to choose the right method for your specific research. To choose a method, you can consider variables like your interviewee’s age and habits. This can help you determine which method is most effective for your interviewees while allowing you to obtain the data you need for your research.
2. Develop interview questions and process
Another important step is developing your interview questions and process. The questions you ask can vary by the type of research you conduct, but many researchers prefer to ask open-ended questions.
If you’d like, you can create a schedule for your interview to use as a guide. The schedule can list the questions you want to ask and any other important components of your interview.
3. Facilitate the interview
Once you’ve planned your interview, you can facilitate it. Depending on what interview method you’re using, you might want to ask another person to facilitate the interview. For example, if you’re using the focus group method, you could consider hiring a professional focus group moderator so you can get the best results from the interview. Be sure to take notes throughout the interview so you can reference them as you analyze your results.
4. Analyze your results
After conducting your research interview, you can analyze the response data. Review your notes and any interview transcripts or recordings to see how your data relates to your research. In this step, you can also determine whether you want to complete follow-up interviews to gain additional information.
Tips for conducting interviews in research
Here are some additional tips that you can use to help you conduct successful interviews:
Record your interviews
One tip for conducting effective research interviews is to record your interviews. Recording your interviews can help you ensure you collect accurate data and don’t miss any important parts. You can use a camera or a voice recording application for in-person interviews.
For online interviews, you may be able to use screen recording software or a video chat application’s built-in recording feature. You can also convert your recording to a written transcript so you can reference it later.
Be mindful of researcher bias
Another important tip for conducting research interviews is to be mindful of researcher bias. This occurs when a researcher intentionally or unintentionally skews their data to match their intended outcome. If you can, try to avoid researcher bias, as this can weaken the reliability of your research. You can limit researcher bias by working with peers and duplicating the results of your research in alternative settings.
Choose the right interview setting
It’s also important to choose the right setting for your interview. Try to find a calm place with limited distractions. This can help respondents feel comfortable and more willing to participate honestly and authentically, which can allow them to extract valuable data and insights from the interview.
Use your research question as a guide
Another tip for interviewing is to use your research question as a guide. Researchers usually begin the research process with a research question, which is a question that they center their research on and attempt to answer. Keeping your research question in mind can help you ensure you ask questions and collect data that contribute to your research overall.