An interview is a method that uses a direct question-and-answer format with a participant. It's a guided and focused conversation on specific topics to collect qualitative data, typically in the form of text.
Interviews are also one of the most customizable methods because you can quickly adapt to each interviewed person. By reframing questions, altering scenarios, or adopting the language used by an individual participant, the interview method allows you flexibility and focus when studying qualitative research questions.
While good interviews feel like good conversations, the real difference is intention. Your goal is to learn about predetermined, aligned topics from each participant. You ask follow-up questions to clarify some responses. You often are recording the conversation, while also taking some freeform notes.
Sometimes, you listen to someone’s response and choose not to say something or write anything down. Other times, you might explain something early to make later questions easier to understand.
Below are some reasons for choosing or avoiding the interview research method in your qualitative studies.
Like all research methods, interviews have some weaknesses or downsides. Running many interviews in one day or one week can be tiring and fatiguing. It's also very time-consuming to qualitatively analyze the collected interview -- not including the time spent on cleaning, structuring, recording, and storing your qualitative audio, video, and text data. You have to consciously budget time to deal with the amount of unstructured data.
Other properties of interviews are listed below. Use them when deciding to use or avoid interviews.
If you can, try to pair interviews with a method that counteracts or negates the weakness. For example, pairing an interview with a survey allows you to effectively collect lots of qualitative and quantitative data. You can read more about using one qualitative and one quantitative research method together here.
There are different types or variations of interviews you could use in your research. You can optimize when and why you use one of the interview variants in any given study. In addition to the strengths and weaknesses shown above, there are some specific properties of each variant you should know. Over time, you can take advantage of their properties, making each qualitative study design more aligned to your study goals.
In most situations, you'll find that a semi-structured interview is the best because it offers a balance of structure and flexibility. You can get your team involved in interviews by having them ideate topics or draft possible interview questions.
For the rest of this chapter, the focus is on semi-structured interviews. But no matter what type of interview you use, you (and your stakeholders) might think interviews are only about asking people questions. In the next section, let’s break down why this idea will make it harder for you to run better interviews.