Orientation Observation In-depth interviews Document analysis and semiology Conversation and discourse analysis Secondary Data Surveys Experiments Ethics Research outcomes



Social Research Glossary

About Researching the Real World



© Lee Harvey 2012–2017

Page updated 13 January, 2017

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2017, Researching the Real World, available at
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A Guide to Methodology

4. In-depth interviews

4.1 Introduction to in-depth interviewing

4.1.1 In-depth interviewing and structured schedule interviewing
4.1.2 In-depth interviewing used with other methods

4.2 Types of in-depth interview
4.3 Methodological approaches to in-depth interviews
4.4 Doing in-depth interviews
4.5 Analysing in-depth interview data
4.6 Summary and conclusion

4.1 Introduction to in-depth interviewing
In-depth interviewing is a generic name for a technique that engages with the research subject in a way that encourages a detailed exchange of information.

There are several variations that fall under the general umbrella of ‘in-depth interviewing’, ranging from free-form conversations through semi-structured and more formalised approaches including interrogtion and cross-examination. The approach, in its widest sense, also includes group interviews and focus groups (see Section, which are structured around a discussion format.

This general purpose of in-depth interviewing is to discover the respondents’ perceptions or to probe into a subject to explore nuances and detail.

In-depth interviews are also referred to as ‘depth-interviews’ and sometimes as ‘ethnographic interviews’ or, misleadingly as ‘unstructured’, ‘open-ended’ or ‘qualitative’ interviews (discussed below).

In specific circumstances, in-depth interviews are called ‘life-history interviews’, because they focus on a detailed account of the life of a respondent (see Section The ultimate life history interview is the autobiography, although its value as sociological data is contentious (Section In some cases, where life history is linked to a broader historical study, such interviews are referred to as ‘oral history interviews’ (see for example, Nick Crossley, 1999, p. 811).

Some in-depth interviews are also referred to as ‘case study interviews’, when they focus on exploring aspects of a particular case, which might be, for example, a single organisation, community or group that is being used as a detailed illustration of a particular phenomenon.


Next 4.1.1 In-depth interviewing and schedule interviewing