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



Social Research Glossary

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© 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

4.2.3 Structured in-depth interviewing

Structured in-depth interviews (or focused interviews (Merton et al., 1956)) are like scheduled interviews (see Section 8). The interviewer has a list of specific questions. There are, however, three main differences with scheduled interviews.

First, structured in-depth interviews do not have pre-coded answers. The questions are framed as 'open' questions that encourage the respondent to talk at some length about the specific area of interest. This was the approach used by Cynthia Cockburn (1985) in her study of men and women working with new computer technology, (see CASE STUDY: Using a checklist).

Second, unlike the scheduled interview, where all the respondents have the same basic set of questions, the structured in-depth interview is often customised for each respondent: Cockburn had different checklists for different occupational groups (see CASE STUDY: Using a checklist). Unlike social surveys, structured in-depth interviewing is not used to collect responses to specific questions that can be compared across the whole sample.

Third, because the responses are seen as 'subjective accounts' rather than 'objective answers' there is no requirement that the structured in-depth interviewer should use the exact wording of the question or the exact sequence of questions.

The extent to which structured and semi-structured in-depth interviews develop the frame of reference of the informant depends on the way the interviewer probes for information (See Section If all data obtained is in response to predetermined questions, then, as with standardised structured/scheduled interviews, the data is unlikely to go beyond the researcher's own categories. However, if probes are more flexible and responsive to the informants' comments, they can draw out the informant's meanings, eliciting data that categorises experience in the informant's own terms.


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