If you are conducting qualitative research, you may be wondering what is the best interview type for your study? Well, the answer is that it depends on your research design and what you want to accomplish. Let us start with the different types of interviews. There are three types of interviews: unstructured, semistructured, and structured.
Unstructured interviews: These are interviews that take place with few, if any, interview questions. They often progress in the manner a normal conversation would, however it concerns the research topic under review. It is a relatively formless interview style that researchers use to establish rapport and comfort with the participant, and is extremely helpful when researchers are discussing sensitive topics. The researcher is expected to probe participants in order to obtain the most rich and in-depth information possible. If you select this interview style, just keep in mind that you may have to conduct several rounds of interviews with your participants in order to gather all the information you need. Since you do not use a standard interview protocol, sometimes participant’s narratives maneuver the conversation away from other aspects of the research topic you want to explore; it is a part of the conversational style this interview method requires.
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Semistructured interviews: These are interviews that use an interview protocol to help guide the researcher through the interview process. While this can incorporate conversational aspects, it is mostly a guided conversation between the researcher and participant. It does maintain some structure (hence the name semistructured), but it also provides the researcher with the ability to probe the participant for additional details. If you decide to choose this interview method, understand that it offers a great deal of flexibility for you as a researcher. You do not have to worry about needing to conduct several rounds of interviews because your interview protocol will keep you focused on gathering all the information that you need to answer your research question. Even though that is the goal with an interview protocol, there may be a need for additional probing so that you can get more details about participants’ thoughts, feelings, and opinions.
Structured interviews: These are interviews that strictly adhere to the use of an interview protocol to guide the researcher. It is a more rigid interview style, in that only the questions on the interview protocol are asked. As a result, there are not a lot of opportunities to probe and further explore topics that participants bring up when answering the interview questions. This method can be advantageous when researchers have a comprehensive list of interview questions, since it helps target the specific phenomenon or experience that the researcher is investigating. It makes for expedient interviewing and will gather the correct information that you need, so there should not be much need for you to do follow-up interviews for missed or forgotten questions.
Each interview type has its advantages and its disadvantages, as briefly outlined above. Selecting one depends on your research design and what you want to get out of your interviews. If you take some time to review your research design, this will help you determine which interview type works best for your study.