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
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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
4.3 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 In-depth interviews as a descriptive tool
In-depth interviews are used in some cases to provide background detail in a study to provide some grounding and orientation for the researchers prior to developing a social survey or other device for collecting statistical data.

Top Exploratory in-depth interviews
In-depth interviews are sometimes used as the exploratory stage of social surveys (in a way similar to how positivists use observation, see Section 3).

For example, in their studies of American soldiers during the Second World War, Samuel Stouffer et al. (1949) used in-depth and group interviews as a way of exploring the issues that affected soldiers' morale. A formal scheduled interview, used on a large sample, was devised on the basis of the data collected from these exploratory interviews.

In a similar way, Hanah Gavron (1966) made use of semi-structured interviews in the 'pilot' stage of her study of housewives. During these pilot interviews she simply employed a checklist of topics (which she referred to as 'unstructured interviewing'). These were later developed into a detailed schedule for the main sample of interviews.

In some universities, researchers collecting feedback from students on their experience while at university, use individual or group in-depth interviews with small samples of students to determine the questions to go into a questionnaire. The questionnaire is then usually distributed to all or a large sample of students (see, for example, Harvey and Associates (1997)).

Top Using in-depth interviews to derive hypotheses
A variant on using in-depth interviews to determine the content of a survey is the use of exploratory in-depth interviews to identify the research hypotheses to be tested using statistical techniques on a larger and (supposedly) unbiased data set.

Top Using in-depth interviews to triangulate results
In-depth interviews can be used to collect data to provide additional material, using different collection techniques to provide further evidence that the statistical analysis has not obscured subtle or complex issues.

Kate Bird's study of resilience in the face of conflict and poverty in Uganda used in-depth interview data to triangulate results.

The NUBS data used in this research were the results of the first round conducted in 2004. This survey was conducted in 12 districts in Northern Uganda and five from more northerly districts in the Eastern region. Two phases of analysis of the NUBS data were undertaken as part of this study. The first was undertaken before the fieldwork and provided the research team with useful contextual information, differentiated by district (differential poverty rates, poverty determinants, education rates and labour market returns to education). The second was undertaken after the in?]depth qualitative field research and was used to triangulate and amplify findings. (Bird, undated, p. 4)

Top In-depth interviews to identify unintended consequences of policy initiatives
Positivists make use of in-depth interviews as part of a process of evaluating policy initiatives. Normally, this would involve a survey generating statistical analyses showing whether policy targets have been met or outcomes achieved. However, policies frequently lead to unintended consequences, which the policy evaluation process has not intended.

The use of in-depth interviews, usually with key informants, can help identify the unintended consequences and give some indication of the extent of these unanticipated outcomes. It may be that subsequent quantitative research would attempt to explore and enumerate such consequences.


Next 4.3.2 Phenomenological approaches to in-depth interview