Orientation Observation In-depth interviews Document analysis and semiology Conversation and discourse analysis Secondary Data Surveys Experiments Ethics Research outcomes



Social Research Glossary

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© Lee Harvey 2012–2019

Page updated 25 January, 2019

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2019, 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 Written recording Mechanical recording Transcription Verbatim recording as naturalistic or objective

4.5 Analysing in-depth interview data
4.6 Summary and conclusion

4.4 Doing in-depth interviews

4.4.4 Recording interview data Written recording
Unless you are an expert at shorthand you should not attempt to write everything down whist conducting an in-depth interview. It is far better to make a condensed account of the interview, writing down key words, phrases and sentences that will enable you to recall items of information later. As soon as possible after the interview you should write up and expand these notes, filling in details and recalling things not recorded on the spot.

Raymond Lee (2004) in his excellent history of recoding interview data notes that:

By the early 1920s, the interview in a recognizably modern form, both structured and unstructured, had become established as a data collection method in sociology. Researchers carrying out unstructured interviews often relied on what was known at the time as the 'verbatim interview' (Burgess, 1928; Cavan, 1929). This term does not imply, as it might today, that the record of the interview contains a complete and more or less faithful rendering of what was said. It represented instead an attempt to obtain as nearly as possible a 'report of the interview, in anecdotal form, including gestures, facial expressions, questions, and remarks of the interviewer' (Cavan, 1929: 107). In other words, although condensed and selective, the record of the interview had a naturalistic character in which its original sequence was preserved, the dynamics of the interview were noted, and those words uttered by the respondent that were judged significant were recorded in as faithful a way as possible. To do this, researchers relied on reconstructing the interview from memory after the event, unobtrusively jotted notes, or the use of standard or private shorthands (Bennett, 1981; Platt, 1976).

It is advisable to make condensed notes during every interview, even if you are making a mechanical recording. This can provide you with ideas to pursue during the interview and may prove helpful when attempting to analyse the tape and extract relevant information from it later. Sometimes, the circumstances of the interview make it difficult to make notes. For example, a study of football supporters which employed semi-structured in-depth interviews with fans at matches used only tape-recorders because the physical situation of standing and talking to people in a crowd while holding a tape-recorder made it difficult to write condensed notes as well (Harvey, Little and Turner, 1982). Similarly, there may be circumstances where respondents are distracted if you are continually making notes whilst they are talking.

An alternative to making notes yourself is to get someone else to make the notes while you concentrate on conducting the interview. As is shown below (Section, this is often how focus groups are conducted. For example, Shaw's life histories interviews with juvenile delinquents in Chicago were recorded by a stenographer who was hidden behind a screen (Smith, 1928).

Another angle on this is for the researcher to make use of second-hand interview transcripts (whether verbatim or notes) that have been undertaken for other purposes. Jennifer Platt (1994) has noted that this was a fairly common practice in the Chicago tradition of the 1920s and that, counter to the myths (Harvey 1987), the Chicago School sociologists did not always gather first-hand data. A lot of the data came from social work records and Burgess (1928) openly commended the verbatim interview to social workers as a device that not only served their own purposes but would allow casework interview data to be used subsequently for the purposes of sociological research.

Lee (2004, p. 871) commented:

Being relatively free of meanings imposed by the caseworker, it [verbatim interview data] was, however, also capable of being reinterpreted by the sociologist in the light of theoretical concerns that might be remote from the original interests of client and caseworker. Perhaps understandably social workers were not entirely happy about the prospect of becoming recording instruments for sociologists (see, e.g., Bruno, 1928). In the event, it is unclear how far social casework interviewing and its recording methods influenced sociological research practice. It has been argued, however, that the development of casework methods helped to cement a professional identity among social workers that increasingly distanced them from even reform-minded sociologists (Carey, 1975; Lubove, 1965).



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