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 2012–2019

Page updated 25 January, 2019

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2019, 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
4.2 Types of in-depth interview

4.2.1 Unstructured in-depth interviews
4.2.2 Semi-structured in-depth interview
4.2.3 Structured 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

4.2.2 Semi-structured in-depth interviewing

A semi-structured in-depth interview is usually one in which the interviewer has a checklist of topic areas or questions. The intention is to get the informants to talk in their own terms, hence questions tend not to be too specific allowing for a range of possible responses.

However, it is a more focused interview than the more general and wide-ranging unstructured interview. If, during the semi-structured interview, the respondent moves from one area to another that appear on the interviewer's checklist without being asked a question by the interviewer, then the interviewer checks this off without need to ask the question on the check list.

The questions are not asked in any given order, rather they are asked in a way that develops the (usually one-way) conversation. The questions are designed to get the respondent talking about specific areas that the interviewer wants to know about. So there is no requirement that the questions have to be asked in any fixed order or that the same wording has to be used for each respondent. The interviewer has to use initiative in ensuring that the topic list is covered in a way that best suits each case (see for example, CASE STUDY Graduate's Work).

In a study exploring reactions to a new outdoor leadership offered in a dozen Tasmanian schools, eleven teachers offered their views (Dyment et al., 2014, p. 87). The semi-structured interviews lasted between 30 and 60 minutes and were recorded.

The interviews consisted of a series of open and closed questions related to three themes: curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. A general interview guide (Patton, 2002) was used in order to keep 'the interactions focused while allowing individual perspectives and experiences to emerge' (p. 334). Such an approach provided scope for exploration of the ways in which individual teachers implemented the new curriculum in a variety of contexts.

The conclusion was broad approval of the new pre-tertiary outdoor education curriculum but frustration over the 'perceived lack of guidance in the Outdoor Leadership document, resulting in a lack of certainty in regard to the way in which the curriculum might be delivered' (Dyment et al., 2014, p. 96).

In similar vein, David Haycock and Andy Smith (2014, p. 168) explored the differential impact that gender and social class had on sports
participation, and other health-related behaviours (e.g., drinking and smoking), among 30 to 35-year-olds. Their small study involved
semi-structured interviews conducted with 19 participants. The findings suggest that 'while significant, the length of time spent in education and the differential educational experiences recalled by adults cannot adequately explain the observed differences in health and leisure-sport participation.'

Nigel Healey (2013) asked 'Why do English universities really franchise degrees to overseas providers?' and explored this via what he described as semi-structured interviews lasting between an hour and an hour and a half with eleven senior members of staff from four English universities. He used open questions with a loose structure to give participants the greatest scope for revealing motivations and incentives that departed from the official messages set out in university plans and documents.

Participants were not asked direct questions (for example, 'what was your motivation for entering the franchise?') but a narrative interview approach was taken, with participants asked to talk about the history and development of the franchises they managed and to reflect on what they saw as the benefits and costs and how these had unfolded over time relative to their expectations…. During the interviews, respondents were invited to reflect on what they believed to have been the motives of the key decision-makers. This resulted in a rich mix of responses that included both what the participants believed to be their own motives for championing the franchises with which they were associated and what they believed to have been the motives of previous decision-makers and their line managers. (Healey, 2013, p. 190)

A study by James Nazroo (1995) used semi-structured interviewing to attempt to explain the very different outcomes of research on domestic violence in the 1970s and 1980s. Feminist research, had highlighted the issue of domestic violence. Their research had primarily been based on in-depth interviews, often with relatively small samples. This qualitative research emphasised the power dimension and the oppression of the violence against, both physical and mental. Alternative quantitative research using structured questionnaires revealed that in cohabiting settings (married or otherwise) women hit men as much if not more than vice versa. Nazroo, used semi-structured interviews with 96 couples that enabled both a qualitative exploration and a quantitative logging of incidents. What the analysis showed was that:

Although women may hit their partners more often than men, if context and meaning is included in the assessment of violence, male violence is considerably more likely than female violence to be dangerous and threatening. The data presented also demonstrate that male-perpetrated marital violence is likely to lead to serious injury and greatly increases women's risk of anxiety, whereas female-perpetrated marital violence has neither of these consequences for men (Nazroo, 1995, p. 475)


Next 4.2.3 Structured in-depth interviewing