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
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 Verbatim recording as naturalistic or objective
Clifford Shaw (1930, p. 22) argued that if the interview is recorded in the exact language of the interviewee, the:

record of the interview is not only complete, but its objectivity is preserved. A translation of the story into the language of the interviewer would, in most cases, greatly alter the original meaning.

This has been an enduring perspective for three-quarters of a century, in popular imagination, political discourse, the media and social science.Raymond Lee (2004, p. 827) noted that 'in the 1920s and 1930s the ability to capture people's words as they were spoken was seen as inherently preferable to written accounts' and refers toSamuel Kincheloe's (1929) comment that the 'The stenographically reported interview as a sociological document has obvious advantages over an interview reproduced from memory or from notes'. Lee argued that the shift from 'interview-as-elaboration' to the 'interview-as-elicitation' was not just a function of changing technology but a change in the conceptualisation of what the interview was for: a change engendered by the development of psychoanalysis. The interview became a psychological document.

In the 1920s, Beatrice Webb (1926, p. 424), for example, drew parallels between interviewing and the newly fashionable practice of psychoanalysis. Following the Second World War, interview data started to be cited as evidence, instead of the content being summarised.Jean-Michel Chapoulie (1987, p. 270) argued that 'accounts cited them word for word, which forced researchers to construct finer categories of analysis and to explain their interpretations of remarks and behavior in more detail'.

The conception of the interview, Lee (2004, p. 877) noted, was that of an engagement that had 'depth, coverage and revelatory potential' and methodic approaches 'emphasized the tactics needed by interviewers if they were to elicit appropriate material'. Lee (2004, p. 880) noted that by allowing 'the spontaneous and naturalistic character of the interview to be preserved, tape recording seems to promise that the revelation of the self can be obtained in an unproblematic way'. However, while in-depth interviews have become more equated with the naturalistic expression of the subject, there has been a challenge to the objectivity of the verbatim interview.

In general, anthropologists have been more critical of this assumption than sociologists. Writers like Roger Sanjek (1990) see the tape-recorded interview as involving a dominant, largely Western form of interaction. Viewed in this way, overreliance on the interview potentially excludes dialogic forms found in other cultures that might equally well serve as a basis for fieldwork relations.


Next 4.5 Analysing in-depth interview data