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 2012–2020

Page updated 29 April, 2020

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2020, Researching the Real World, available at
All rights belong to author.


A Guide to Methodology

4. In-depth interviews

4.1 Introduction to in-depth interviewing
4.2 Types of in-depth interview
4.3 Methodological approaches to in-depth interviews

4.3.1 Positivist approaches to in-depth interviews In-depth interviews as a descriptive tool in-depth interviews Using in-depth interviews to derive hypotheses Using in-depth interviews to triangulate results In-depth interviews to identify unintended consequences of policy initiatives

4.3.2 Phenomenological approaches to in-depth interview
4.3.3 Critical approaches to in-depth interview

4.4 Doing in-depth interviews
4.5 Analysing in-depth interview data
4.6 Summary and conclusion

4.3.1 Positivist approaches to in-depth interviews
Positivists are somewhat wary of in-depth interviewing as the flexibility of the method means that it is hard to generalise from responses. Often, in the course of an in-depth interview, questions get asked in slightly different ways, in response to the context of the interview, and so it is hard to enumerate the answers (which are often quite detailed with a range of nuances), other than, perhaps, broad levels of agreement or disagreement.

Furthermore, in-depth interview samples are often quite small and rarely random samples, which means that statistical techniques for making inferences and generalisations are not applicable.

Positivists primarily use in-depth interviews:

1. as a descriptive tool;

2. as the exploratory stage for further quantitative research;

3. as a means of inductively deriving hypotheses to be tested by more 'rigorous' data collection.

4. for triangulation.

5. to evaluate the impact of policy; particularly to identify unintended consequences.

In-depth interviews and the information they general are not conducive to a positivist approach, seeking causal connections based on statistical analysis. In-depth interviews can provide some descriptive background but in the main they tend to be used as an exploratory stage of a quantitative research study.


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