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 2012–2019

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

4.1.1 In-depth interviewing and structured schedule interviewing
4.1.2 In-depth interviewing used with other methods

4.2 Types of in-depth interview
4.3 Methodological approaches to in-depth interviews
4.4 Doing in-depth interviews
4.5 Analysing in-depth interview data
4.6 Summary and conclusion

4.1 Introduction

4.1.1 In-depth interviewing and structured schedule interviewing

In-depth interviewing is usually contrasted with structured schedule interviewing, used in surveys (see Section 8).

There are five key differences between in-depth and structured survey interviews.

1. Structured interviews have a schedule of specific and precise questions, whereas in-depth interviews often only have broad question areas.

2. The structured schedule interviewer is expected to ask the questions in the specified order and using the exact wording on the schedule, whereas the in-depth interviewer can modify the order and even wording of questions in response to the answers the subject provides.

3. The prompts and probes that a scheduled interviewer can use to elaborate the respondent's answers are often pre-specified, thus delimiting the interviewer's scope, whereas the in-depth interviewer is able to probe in a way that maintains the conversational flow.

4. The structured interview is clearly a one-way collection of information, whereas some forms of in-depth interviewing involve a dialogue between researcher and interviewer.

5. The structured interview data is often recoded by checking/ticking appropriate pre-formed answers on the schedule and often the respondent is limited to a choice of rtesponses that fit the pre-coded answers.

In-depth interviews are usually recorded verbatim, as far as possible.

Ann Oakley (1974), despite being a critique of conventional approaches to interviewing (see section/extract XXX below), argued that in-depth interviews gain far more insight into interviewee's concerns than scheduled interviews that use single-item indicators. She noted, for example, that in a reply to a single question: 'Do you like housework?' middle-class women were far more likely to give a negative answer than the working-class sample. On probing, however, Oakley's interviews undermined the view that dissatisfaction with housework was a middle-class phenomenon. She found the attitudes of working-class women to the different tasks that make up housework were very similar to those of the middle-class group. Dissatisfaction in both groups was closely associated with a perceived drop in status from paid work to unpaid housework, especially where the paid employment was enjoyed.

Oakley suggested that this apparent contradiction is illustrative of a 'methodological moral': that simple questions produce simple answers.


Next 4.1.2 In-depth interviewing used with other methods