How to perform a qualitative research interview

In this article, we go through how to perform a qualitative research interview, what structure to choose, and what you need to consider when setting up the interview.

Qualitative interviews are a valuable research method that can help researchers gain insight into the experiences, perspectives, and opinions of people in any given demographic. By asking open-ended questions and allowing participants to provide in-depth, detailed responses, qualitative interviews can provide a wealth of information that can be used to understand a particular topic or phenomenon better.

Most people know the advantages and benefits of conducting interviews. We can likely consider it the very earliest form of behavioral research – or even the oldest research tool in history. 

How to perform a qualitative research interview - Interview setting.

There is essentially no right or wrong way to conduct a qualitative interview, as long as you collect meaningful answers from the interviewee – how you go about that, and what is ultimately decided to be “meaningful” is however, at the interviewer’s discretion. In order to help structure the interview process, we will describe the three types of qualitative interviews below. Each has its strengths and weaknesses – they are; structured interviews, semi-structured interviews, and unstructured interviews. 

Structured interviews

Structured Interviews are pre-planned, standardized interviews that are designed to be administered to a large number of participants. Structured interviews often use a fixed set of questions that are asked in the same order to each participant. This type of interview is helpful in collecting data that is easy to compare and analyze. Still, it can be less effective for collecting rich, deep-diving information about a person’s experiences or views.

This type of interview is usually the one we recommend using when following up with a group of participants after a data collection session, with the aim of collecting their individual responses to the stimulus. This type of interview allows you to streamline the interview structure, and get unique answers. 

Semi-structured interviews

Semi-structured interviews are less formal than structured interviews, but still have a pre-planned set of questions. These interviews allow for more flexibility and spontaneity, allowing participants to provide in-depth responses and follow up on their answers. Semi-structured interviews are useful for collecting detailed, rich data, but they can be more time-consuming and may not be suitable for large-scale research projects.

Unstructured interviews

Unstructured interviews are the most flexible and spontaneous type of qualitative interview. In an unstructured interview, the researcher may have a general topic or research question in mind, but the interview is not pre-planned and the questions are not standardized. This allows the researcher to follow the participant’s responses and explore interesting topics or areas of interest in greater depth. Unstructured interviews can provide valuable insights and detailed information, but they can be challenging to analyze and may not be suitable for all research projects.

The role of the interviewer in a qualitative interview

There are several considerations to keep in mind when conducting qualitative research. For example, researchers must carefully select participants who are representative of the population they are studying and must ensure that they are conducting interviews in a way that is ethical, and respectful of participants.

How to perform a qualitative research interview.

Another important consideration is the interviewer themselves. The interviewer plays a crucial role in the success of a qualitative interview, as they are responsible for creating a comfortable and safe environment for participants, asking open-ended and non-leading questions, and accurately recording and interpreting participants’ responses (much easier said than done).

Additionally, researchers must carefully analyze and interpret the data collected from qualitative interviews. This can be a challenging task, as qualitative data is often rich, detailed, complex – and often open to multiple interpretations. 

Qualitative Research Interviews as a data validation tool

It is considered good practice to always back up your data and findings. Especially when you conduct human behavior research. At iMotions, we always encourage our users to add as many layers to data collection as possible. Be it several layers of data collection modalities, such as eye tracking, EEG, EDA/GSR, or questionnaires or interviews, no single methodology or modularity should stand alone as the definitive source of answers.  

A qualitative interview can be a great tool with which to validate data after a data collection session, in case something needs to be clarified, or simply to record how participants remembered their experience during the session/reacted to it, and so on.

If applied correctly, and structured in a way that is conducive to the research question, a qualitative research interview can easily be the final piece of the puzzle that makes your data make sense, align the data with your research question, or simply the element that validates your study scientifically. Wherever you might choose to implement it, it is one of the most valuable validation tools you have available as a human behavior researcher. 

Qualitative research interviews can be an integral part of a study setup. If you want to get a broader perspective on how and where it might fit in when designing your study, you can download our experimental design guide for free here, for an in-depth rundown of everything you need to know when designing studies.

Free 44-page Experimental Design Guide

For Beginners and Intermediates

  • Introduction to experimental methods
  • Respondent management with groups and populations
  • How to set up stimulus selection and arrangement

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