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
4.4 Doing in-depth interviews

4.4.1 Constructing an interview guide
4.4.2 Setting up the interviews
4.4.3 Interviewing
4.4.4 Recording interview data

4.5 Analysing in-depth interview data
4.6 Summary and conclusion

Activity 4.4.1

4.4 Doing in-depth interviews

4.4.1 Constructing an interview guide
Although the primary aim of this type of interviewing is to get the informant talking about life in their terms, the researcher does not take a completely passive role. During the early stages of the interview, and when breaks in conversation occur, the interviewer must be prepared to stimulate talk by asking suitable questions. Furthermore, not all information is relevant and it may be necessary to guide the informant towards some things and away from others. This is particularly important when undertaking small-scale projects with limited interviewing time.

To prepare for this, the interviewer may first draw up a list of possible topic areas to be covered and then devise several suitable questions on each of the areas identified. These questions must be the kind that open up a topic, rather than elicit a one-word response. They must also be carefully worded to allow informants free expression of their ideas and feelings. Questions should not lead respondents to talk about things that fit the researcher's preconceptions.

Activity 4.4.1
Identify an area of research (choose anything that interests you or use Cotterill's study as an example and think about family relations). Prepare a preliminary in-depth interview guide for the research.
1 Decide on a list of main topics.
2. Devise three or four questions on each of these topics, angled in ways you feel will stimulate talk and produce data relevant to the project.

This activity involves reflection and analysis and can be done in small groups or as an independent activity and would take about 40 minutes.

It is not intended that an interview guide should be rigidly followed when conducting an interview. Rather, it should provide relevant prompts for interviewers to use at their discretion in drawing out the informant's ideas. It is unlikely that information will be elicited in neat, sections relating to any pre-defined subdivision of the subject of interest nor in a chronological order. However, preparing a guide may help the interviewer ensure that no important areas are omitted. It may not be possible during the interview to cover all the topics included in a guide espeially where other more promising lines of enquiry arise. Flexibility in approach is the key and this is where in-depth interviewing differs fundamentally from formal scheduled interviews (see Section 8).

It is not unusual to conduct more than one interview with an informant when undertaking in-depth work (see Section For example, when Oakley interviewed women about their experiences of maternity she conducted four interviews with each of the women, lasting an average of 2.36 hours each (Oakley, 1979). The nature of an interview guide will depend, therefore, on the number of interviews the researcher intends to carry out. If the research involves conducting more than one interview with each respondent, the first guide is likely to include basic life history data such as family, educational and occupational background and to start the discussion of the substantive topic. Subsequent guides might probe more specific areas or build on the responses to the first-round interview.

The interview guide developed for second or subsequent interviews will be shaped by the data already collected. Areas that appear worthwhile in the first interview will need to be followed up, and more sharply-focused questions might be needed to produce relevant data. Any deficiencies of the first interview can also be made good by devising questions to clarify incomplete or confusing information. However, interviewers must avoid imposing their terms of reference on interviewees. Where possible, second interview guides should incorporate the categories the informants have used themselves.


Next 4.4.2 Setting up the interviews