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 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 Telephone interviewing
When face-to-face in-depth interviews are not possible, then an alternative is to do the interview via a telephone link. In telephone interviews the exchange is synchronous, although at a distance, which may involve different time zones (and thus special arrangements).

Advantages of the telephone interview are that it is cheaper because there are no travel costs involved, faster because there is no need to arrange or engage in a physical face-to-face meeting and, with participants who are hard to reach or located in difficult or dangerous places and spaces, safer.

A wider geographical spread is possible. Neil Stephens (2007), located in the United Kingdom, used depth-interviews with élite macroeconomists located in the United States.

The telephone interview can be more acceptable to some participants when discussing sensitive topics, for confidentiality/privacy or convenience, for fitting into busy and complicated lives.

Disadvantages include the lack of face-to-face contact and so lack of information about the other from their appearance, non-verbal communication in the interaction and the physical context. It may also be rather trying to conduct a long in-depth interview via the telephone, as some people are uncomfortable with lengthy telephone calls.

These disadvantages can, in part, be overcome where the telephone conversation is via the Internet or other device, which provides visual contact. This is much more limited than conventional face-to-face and depending on the reliability and speed of the technology may be more or less satisfactory than audio connections. Where it works, online visual communication provides a valuable medium for interviews, which can be undertaken at low cost, provide ease of access and minimise ecological dilemmas (such as transportation) (Hanna 2012).

Claire Smith et al. (2005, p. 35) argued that telephone interviews are quick and easy to administer. Furthermore, 'Access to people in higher positions is made possible; for example, in the case of the women in management research, the researcher was able to interview chief executives of local authorities'. However, if you are prepared to travel and plan visits, then it is not impossible to meet chief executives face-to-face (Harvey et al., 1997 ).

Bernard Longden (2002) used telephone interviews in a study of students who leave early from higher education 'It was not possible to provide face-to-face interviews because students come form all parts of the England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the cost of travel would have been prohibitive and not represent value for money.' Furthermore, he suggested that there were other advantages of telephone surveys; not being distracted by facial expressions or general physical presence; a form of anonymity; an interview that is conducted at home and is less intrusive.

Amanda Holt (2010) similarly argued that for the kind of work she was doing (critical realist discourse analysis) telephone interviews were preferable as it allowed her to focus on the text and not the surrounding visual clues of a face-to-face interaction. For her, the lack of non-verbal communication led to greater articulation in the communication from both researcher and participant.

Judith Sturges and Kathleen Hanrahan (2004) employed both face-to-face and telephone semi-structured interviews in their prison study and concluded that the findings did not differ substantially which ever form of interviewing was used.

On-line 'chat' interviews, where one person types a question or comment and the other types a response have the appearance of a verbal dialogue but both researcher and respondent have much more control over the dialogic situation than in a face-to-face or telephone interview. This is because each party can take as long as they want to respond, can rewrite their response prior to sending the message and, in the case of the subject, just stop sending replies either permanently or following a declaration of a break and request for further contact at a later time.


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