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 Rapport Exploitation The male paradigm Dialogic interviewing Limits of shared experience Power relations Empowering Objectivication of subject cannot be avoided Probing Foreign language complications Remote interviewing Telephone interviewing Asynchronous interviews Follow-up interviews Focus groups

4.4.4 Recording interview data

4.5 Analysing in-depth interview data
4.6 Summary and conclusion

4.4 Doing in-depth interviews Rapport
Rapport means slightly different things to different commentators. For some, it is nothing more than creating a situation in which the respondent feels at ease and talks freely.

For others, rapport is about moving towards a degree of empathy with respondents. Most in-depth interviews are, to some degree, a mixture of the two dimensions: free-flowing responses and empathetic understanding.

Establishing rapport can sometimes be as easy as being an intent and sympathetic listener. To establish a friendly conversational atmosphere it is sometimes helpful if the interviewer includes occasional supportive remarks, such as 'I know what you mean' or 'Yes, my parents were like that too', or simply nod or smile encouragingly. While some people talk at length after only a couple of questions, others need rather more encouragement. To develop a rapport with an informant and encourage talk, it is often useful to incorporate questions that ask them, early on, to describe places, people, events or activities that they can conceptualise easily.

If the respondent finds difficulty answering the questions, or is reluctant to engage, conversation can sometimes be stimulated by interviewers making a contribution based on their own experiences. However, this may influence the informant and should, therefore, be approached with caution. Respondents may also be presented with hypothetical or scenario questions, which describe a situation and ask them what they would do. Finally, it is useful in clarifying or developing ideas to pick out an event or issue already identified by the informant and ask for an example or for further clarification.

Rapport can be easily shattered if, as Ann Phoenix (1994, p. 57) noted 'interviewees rail against a category that the interviewer fits into (e.g., employed mothers; feminists; black people) or make sexist or racist comments.' However, she goes on to say that

Since the whole point of interviews is to evoke respondents' accounts rather than hear one's own discourses reflected back, I would argue that this is usually interesting data rather than upsetting and that it is manageable within the interview context.

In short, don't 'dismiss' the respondent because you don't like what you are hearing. Rapport needs to be maintained independently of interview content.

Rebecca Klatch (1987) found that developing trust with the women of the political right, whom she was interviewing, was the most important issue, given that she held views opposed to her subjects. Her role as a graduate student from Harvard, she found, provided legitimacy for her as a 'seeker of knowledge' and also rendered her essentially non-threatening to her interviewees. (1987, p. 17) adopted 'a non-argumentative approach in the interviews' and 'that I conveyed an honest attempt to understand the opinions and values of the women I met in a non-aggressive manner was met with a welcome and open response'. In so doing, she successfully 'bridged the gap' between herself and the interviewees, by which she means that she was able to sustain rapport and elicit the information she wanted despite hearing things with which she had little sympathy. How much this constituted a dialogic process, though, is a little harder to ascertain.

Donna Luff, argues that rapport is not straightforward and that it 'can be experienced as challenging and provocative in certain research situations' (see CASE STUDY: Hiding opposing views). Rapport is not necessarily established once and for all but, as Luff (1999, pp. 695–6) suggests in the interview situation there are 'moments of rapport' , when there are shared or complementary experiences but in 'the same interaction there may also be moments of dissonance or discomfort, a discovery of opposition or even hostility'. Furthermore, she points out that the these moments of rapport are not necessarily perceived as such simultaneously by both parties. However, she suggests that 'where the researcher reflects upon moments of rapport they can contribute important insights to the research' and can act as a stimulus to new thoughts about the research process and the emerging issues.

However, there is a view that suggests rapport is not just about setting the respondent at ease and empathising (albeit superficially). On the contrary, rapport is an exploitative technique. Rapport, is not about an interrelationship between interviewer and interviewee, but about the interviewee accepting the interviewers' research goals and actively helping to provide the relevant information. The interviewer is in control and the interviewee is socialised into the role of information provider (Moser and Kalton, 1971; Galtung, 1967). The interviewer must, however, avoid 'over-rapport' as this might jeopardise the 'objectivity' of the process. Thus a balancing act is required. The interview should be conducted dispassionately so that 'objective' data can be collected. The success of the interview is seen to depend on a good rapport in which the interviewee is manipulated in a kindly and sympathetic way to provide the desired information.

Ann Oakley (1981, p. 41) argued that it is not possible to achieve complete rapport between interviewer and interviewee in a one-way data collection process; this view of rapport she calls the 'male paradigm' (see Section


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