Interviewing

“The respondent as an expert on his or her own life.”

Interviewing is a very common form of data collection used in all of the social sciences. There are a number of advantages to interviewing. For example, you get to know the participants better than if you were to survey them alone. The data you gather is far deeper and ‘richer’ than the numerical data from quantitative methods. Interviewing is also a more flexible method in that you can ask probing, clarifying, or follow-up questions when a respondent is vague in their answers. Yet, it is also very costly and time consuming and, unlike some of the other forms of data collection, the very presence of the interviewer and their interaction with the participants, may cause some biases in the data. As a result, the interviewer must be well trained whether conducting structured interviews, semi-structured interviews, or unstructured/open-ended interviews. While structured interviews are very useful when you have multiple interviewers, unstructured interviews may take a lot of time as the interview is more of a free-flowing conversation. I often use a semi-structured interview protocol with open-ended questions to allow for elaboration, but topically focused and structured enough to keep an interview on track. Here’s an example of an interview protocol developed by some of my students who, much like you, were researching topics that came from the GSS:

Like all methods, there are some serious drawbacks to interviewing. First, it is much an art form as it is a method. Some people are just good at establishing rapport and trust with an interviewee. It has been found through several studies that women are often perceived as better at creating this trust than men (remember the experiments from the Perception Lab on trustworthiness?) Also, interviewing is relatively expensive compared to other forms of data collection. How many surveys can you collect in one hour? How many really good in-depth interviews in the same timeframe? What do you do with a recording of the interview? Afterwards, you must type it up or transcribe it for analysis. This takes even more time than the interview itself (on average four hours for every one hour interview).

I would like for you to now read Johnson, John M. 2001. “In Depth Interviewing,” Chapter 5 in Jaber F. Gubrium and James A. Holstein, eds, Handbook of Interviewing Research.Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Afterwards you will complete watch a documentary and then complete Discussion 5 – Interviews and Fieldwork.

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