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
4.2 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 Sequence Locating respondents Explaining the research Hiding the purpose of the interview Seeking permission Interview setting

4.4.3 Interviewing
4.4.4 Recording interview data

4.5 Analysing in-depth interview data
4.6 Summary and conclusion

4.4 Doing in-depth interviews Interview setting
An important element in any successful in-depth interview is to find an appropriate time and location to be able to talk to the respondent in some depth, preferably in circumstances where the respondent feels comfortable. The interview should take place in an environment conducive to fostering the informality required of in-depth work. Often this will be the informant's home. Sometimes, however, the work-place is preferable.

Sometimes, the researcher has very little choice about the setting and you have to make the best of what is available. Mike Little (1990, p. 27), interviewing in prison, recalled that an unused room or cell is 'not ideal and is often difficult to negotiate'. Nirmal Puwar (1997, p. 4) noted that: 'Where researchers come from outside the higher circles of power and are interested in people's experiences of being MPs, then one has to rely on interviews granted under conditions over which one has little control.' When interviewing football supporters, Lee Harvey et al., (1982) talked to away supporters on the terraces prior to the start of the match. Away supporters tend to arrive early at games. The noise and distractions did not make this setting ideal but this was the only feasible alternative within the scope of the research. Interviewing had to stop about 20 minutes before the commencement of the game as the fans attention was directed elsewhere at that point.

Rosalind Edwards and Janet Holland (2013) described walking and talking interviews, which seem to be a long way from the relaxed ideal of of the seated face-to-face interview setting. However, they contend that walking the respondent's 'patch' can help inspire memories and, to some extent, empower the respondent, who decides the route. Edwards and Holland (2013, p. 46) refer to Andrew Clark and Nick Emmel's (2010) advice about undertaking walking interviews:

Placing events, stories and experiences in their spatial context can help participants to articulate their thoughts; the narratives can add detail to the researcher's understanding and insight; and locations can be used to elicit or prompt discussion, encouraging questioning that might not occur in a room setting. The researchers provided information and a digital camera, and discussed the rationale before the walk so that participants knew what was expected, pointing out that guidance needs to be clear enough to ensure that appropriate data are obtained, but sufficiently open to let participants present their neighbourhood.... The participants chose the route. Th e interview was digitally recorded, using a good quality small microphone with a wind guard. The researchers later recorded the route on a map and wrote it onto the transcript of the interview, with annotations on what was being discussed and where photos were taken.

The interviewer's initial aim is to develop a relaxed, friendly atmosphere in which the informant will talk freely. However, interviews generally begin with feelings of apprehension. The interview is an unfamiliar situation, the informant will not know what to expect or how to behave and the interviewer will also be nervous to a greater or lesser degree as all interviews are unique. The place of interview can influence the power dynamics between the interviewer and interviewee (Finch, 1984; McKee and O'Brien, 1983; Rhodes, 1994). Ning Tang (2002, p. 719) for example, noted that she felt there was a power imbalance against her when she was interviewing academic mothers:

My interview practice has illustrated that the power relationship is very complicated.... The interviewee as well as interviewer's perceptions of social, cultural and personal differences have an important impact on the power dynamics in the interview. In whatever way the power relationship plays out in an interview, it is not simply an issue concerning the goal of the interview but also of the dynamics between the interview pair.... However, I have achieved the goal of the interviews by adopting some strategies such as explaining explicitly my research to the interviewees, making use of personal contacts and arranging interviews to take place in the home of the interviewees, so as to create a relaxed and friendly interview atmosphere. (See also CASE STUDY Where to interview?)

Sometimes it requires a lot of work to establish the right psychological conditions for in-depth interviews. For example, in his study of Young Men In Prison, Little (1990, p. 27) had to make it clear to both inmates and prison staff that he was independent:

For the younger inmate, the prison officer is likely to be an integral part of his life and there is nothing to be gained by siding with one group or another. Clearly, the quality of information will suffer if the inmates view the researcher as part of the prison organisation, so great care is required to establish an independent role in which the prisoner can have confidence.


Next 4.4.3 Interviewing