Just Sociology

Exploring the Types Terms and Perspectives of Interviews

Interviews are commonly used in research as an effective way to gather data from participants, and depending on the type of interview being used, different methods can be employed to yield specific results. This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the different types of interviews, their respective subtopics, and key terms involved in the interview process.

Types of Interviews

Interviews can be classified into four main types: structured or formal interviews, unstructured or informal interviews, semi-structured interviews, and group interviews or focus groups.

Structured or Formal Interviews

Structured or formal interviews refer to interviews that are pre-written and pre-coded to gather specific types of data. They are most commonly used in market research studies, where the interviewer asks a standard set of questions to all participants to maintain uniformity in responses.

One of the primary benefits of structured interviews is that they facilitate easy comparisons of data across participants, thereby providing a comprehensive view of a given topic.

Unstructured or Informal Interviews

Unstructured or informal interviews involve a guided conversation with a list of topics provided to the interviewer. Unlike structured interviews, the interviewer has the flexibility to pursue different avenues of discussion as the conversation develops.

This approach is particularly useful when studying topics that are open-ended or require a more exploratory approach. However, the downside is that extracting standardized data can be challenging.

Semi-Structured Interviews

Semi-structured interviews are a combination of structured and unstructured interviews. The interviewer provides a list of questions to be asked during the interview, but also has the flexibility to ask follow-up questions based on the interviewee’s responses.

This type of interview is flexible enough to accommodate open-ended responses, while also gathering the necessary data required to answer research questions.

Group Interviews and Focus Groups

Group interviews are an effective way to gather data from multiple participants simultaneously. They can be conducted in multiple formats, including one-to-one interviews or group interviews that involve the participation of multiple people.

Focus groups are generally employed to discuss certain topics or concepts with a group of people who may have similar or contrasting opinions.

Key Terms in Interviews

Interviews involve a range of key terms that are critical for researchers to understand and employ when conducting interviews.

Interview Schedule

The interview schedule is a pre-planned list of questions and topic areas that are prepared before conducting the interview. It ensures consistency across interviews and ensures that the necessary data is collected.

Interview schedules are used in structured interviews.

Transcription of Interviews

Transcription refers to the process of writing down, typing up, or recording an interview. It is an essential stage in the interview process as it transforms the interview from a spoken conversation to a written document that can be analyzed.

Leading Questions

Leading questions are questions that are phrased in a way that can bias the respondent’s answers. The interviewer should avoid leading questions to prevent any bias from entering the interview.

Interview preparation should take into consideration the question formulation to ensure that leading questions are avoided. Conclusion:

In conclusion, the interview process is integral to qualitative research and is a critical technique used to gather rich and detailed data from participants.

Determining the appropriate type of interview methodology, such as structured or unstructured or a combination of the two, depends heavily upon the specific research questions and objectives of the study. Researchers should be familiar with the key terms involved in the interview process to ensure that data is collected accurately and effectively.

Strengths and

Limitations of Unstructured Interviews

Unstructured interviews are effective research tools that provide insights into complex, personal, and sensitive topics. Using an unstructured interview approach, the researcher allows the interviewee to lead the conversation while asking questions that encourage in-depth exploration of the topic.

The dynamic nature of unstructured interviews has both strengths and limitations.

Strengths of Unstructured Interviews

The validity of unstructured interviews is seen as better than that of structured interviews. This is because unstructured interviews allow respondents to talk about their experiences in their own way and in their own words.

Researchers can get a deeper understanding of participants’ views, attitudes, and experiences as they guide the conversation. Importantly, their involvement in the conversation also empowers the interviewee to shape and express their opinion on the topic, leading to a productive exchange of information.

Unstructured interviews offer a level of flexibility that caters to the interviewee’s personality and background, which can enhance rapport building between the participant and the researcher. Respondent-led interviews can add to the interviewee’s feeling of being heard, which can lead to greater levels of empathy between the interviewee and researcher.

In addition to such personal benefits, unstructured interviews also provide practical advantages, such as the flexibility of scheduling and conducting interviews, and easy access to the research material in its original form.

Limitations of Unstructured Interviews

The major limitation of unstructured interviews is that they lack the reliability of structured interviews. Researchers do not have a guaranteed framework of questions, thus the exact same question list cannot be reused, and therefore it is difficult to replicate the exact same interview.

Limitations in the reliability of responses can occur and the credibility of unstructured interviews can be undermined if interviewers fail to follow precautions such as having an interview schedule or asking direct and straightforward questions. Also, they may take more time to complete and be more difficult to quantify and generalize, lacking the consistency required for comparative studies.

Another key practical limitation of unstructured interviews is that their dynamic nature can make it difficult to analyze the data that is gathered. Interpersonal skills such as active listening and probing are required of the interviewer to encourage interviewees to share in-depth information as well as shaping the dialogue.

In addition, ethical problems can emerge if researchers fail to recognize their respondents’ vulnerabilities, and boundary-setting becomes an essential component of such interviews.

Sociological Perspectives on Interviews

Sociologists have long been interested in understanding the processes and outcomes of interviews in research. Different approaches and perspectives to the interview process these researchers have suggested can offer different levels of richness, validity, and insight.

Positivists’ View on Interviews

Positivists view interviews as being mostly structured, providing neutral environments with no emotions that would influence the intellect of the researcher or the respondent. By controlling the setting and the questions, researchers can maintain the same standardization to all participants to avoid skewing or biasing analysis.

Positivist researchers would use, for example, standardized questionnaires to extract user requirements, treating their responses only as factual and therefore a representation of objective reality. Interactionists’ View on Interviews

From an interactionist perspective, interviews are non-standardized social settings, rich in meaning and interpretation, and are influenced by both researcher and respondent.

Interpretations based on emotional and coded behaviors lead to more mutual understandings of concepts and get less stress on preconceived ideas and theories. Interactionist researchers believe the nature of the data obtained will depend on the skill and ability of the interviewer and the level of empathy between participating individuals to create a “real” experience for the interviewee.

Denzin’s Perspective on Interviews

Denzin and other critical social theorists take it one step further, arguing that the issues that emerge during the interview are fundamental components of the research process, and acknowledging that how these issues are expressed, processed, and understood are part of the valid-reality of the social world. Not only are the details of the interview valuable components of the research, but the interaction itself is of equal importance to understanding the social phenomena that the study involves.


Understanding the various types of interviews and related key terms, as well as taking into account the various strengths and limitations of interview types, allows researchers to determine the best approach to studying social phenomenon. Researchers should take into consideration how different sociological perspectives view interviews to determine the types of questions and interview styles that best correspond with the research goals.

Further, applying ethical considerations ensures proper respect is given to the interviewees at all times.

Examples of Studies Using Interviews

Interviews are versatile research methods used for various purposes, including gaining a more in-depth understanding of social phenomena. They are used extensively in educational research to explore students’ experiences, teaching techniques, and school policies.

Using Interviews to Research Education

Interviews have been used widely in educational research to gather in-depth information about education-related issues. An example of such research is work carried on by Stronach et al.

(2002), who conducted a large-scale study of teacher education in the UK. In this study, the researchers conducted numerous interviews with student teachers, university lecturers, and mentors to explore how these teachers were being prepared for the teaching profession.

The results of their study showed that the focus on quantitative measures such as performance metrics may undermine the critical and reflective practices of prospective teachers. Another example is Smith’s (2020) research, which examined student experiences of online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this study, Smith conducted online interviews with students and used the data to explore the effectiveness of online teaching, communication technologies, and students’ support mechanisms. The interviews provided an in-depth analysis of the intricacies of student life and how the remote learning environment has impacted these experiences.

Types of Interviews

Interviews are research tools used in various contexts to gather valuable data, and they are classified based on the medium and mode of communication. Three main types of interviews are face-to-face interviews, phone interviews, and video link or social media interviews.

Face-To-Face Interviews

Face-to-face interviews are interviews in which an interviewer and interviewee meet in person to converse, and it’s one of the most commonly used interview formats. They offer the advantage of visual cues, which can enhance the richness of the data collected as body language and other nonverbal communication can be observed.

The direct interaction fosters a more personalized connection that may lead interviewees to reveal more about themselves, their opinions, and their experiences than in other interview formats. However, face-to-face interviews are often more time-consuming, and with the current global COVID-19 pandemic, they may be considered impractical or unsafe.

Phone Interviews

Phone interviews are quick and cost-effective, and they lack the cumbersome logistics of arranging an in-person meeting. Phone interviews are particularly useful in cases where the researcher is interested in reaching the population that may be hard to locate or where a geographical constraint exists.

Phone interviews can be carried out with minimal time wasted on logistics, and interviews can be conducted whenever both parties are available. That said, phone interviews do not provide any visual engagement and non-verbal cues, which may result in some aspects of the conversation being missed.

It can also be difficult for the respondents to communicate with the interviewer if they don’t have a good network connection.

Video Link and Social Media Interviews

Video link and social media interviews can overcome distance and location constraints, making them incredibly convenient for a variety of research contexts. Like face-to-face interviews, they provide opportunities for visual engagement and nonverbal communication, and also offer a more flexible interaction process.

It can be challenging to maintain the flow of dialogue when technical challenges arise or distractions occur in the interviewee’s location. The interviewer needs to bear in mind the variety of platforms and ensure they work correctly, and also ensure that the privacy of the participants is maintained, particularly in the case of social media platforms.


Interviews are essential research methods used to gather valuable and humanized data. Conducting interviews in different formats and under different conditions allow insight into the respondents’ views and behaviors, whether representing a broad population or a narrowly focused personal experience.

Researchers must consider the different types of interviews available and subsequently determine the most appropriate format for the research question, taking account of the limitations and strengths of each, as well as the ethical considerations that underpin the research process. In conclusion, interviews offer a valuable research tool that allows for the gathering of detailed and personal data on a range of research topics.

There are various types of interviews, each having its own strengths, limitations, and considerations, including ethical considerations. Sociological perspectives to the interview process, specific studies related to the education sector, and the processes they employ may all impact how data gathering, analysis and interpretation occurs in their respective fields.

It is important for researchers to understand these aspects of research to guarantee the collection of sound research data for studies that are insightful and illuminate long-standing research questions in their respective fields. FAQs:

Q: What kind of interviews are used for researching education?

A: Interviews used for researching education can be used to explore students’ experiences, teaching techniques, and school policies. Q: How can interviews undermine their reliability?

A: Interviews can undermine their reliability as the standardized list of questions is generally absent. Without a standardized set format for questions, it is difficult to replicate and compare interview results.

Q: What specific perspective do interactionists have on interviews? A: Interactionists consider interviews as symbolic interactions between participants, using non-standardized social settings, rich in meaning and interpretation that are influenced by both researcher and respondent.

Q: Which interview formats lack visual engagement and non-verbal cues? A: Phone interviews lack visual engagement and nonverbal cues.

Q: Why are ethical considerations so important in interviews? A: Ethical considerations are of paramount importance due to the intimate nature of the interaction between interviewees and researchers.

The guidelines for confidentiality, informed consent and the welfare of participants need to be carefully considered.

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