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  4. Overview of Research Methods
  5. Interviews


What is it?

Interview research is essentially a way of collecting qualitative and quantitative information by questioning a person. One key aspect to consider in interview research is the general objective (e.g., seek specific information, theory building, gather in-depth information around a topic) of the study, since this will guide decisions related to the type of interviewing to be used and the procedures for conducting the interviews. Given its nature, interviews enable the researcher to collect information regarding both verbal and non-verbal communication between participants.



When to use it?

Interview research is particularly suited to:

  • When in-depth individual information is more important than the ability to generalize to a larger population.
  • Avoid any potential for interpersonal bias that may result from group discussions (e.g., focus groups).
  • Gather complex information sought individuals with specific knowledge, experiences or characteristics (e.g., food risk experts).
  • Discuss a sensitive or personal issue.
  • Obtain detailed information about an unknown or less known topic.
  • Obtain information that requires more deliberation and elaboration by the respondents.
  • Explore with more depth consumers' feelings, opinions and attitudes about the topic of interest. This may generate new research hypotheses and inform the design of questionnaires, survey instruments or other methods to be used in future research.




The use of interview research provides a number of advantages relative to other types of research, namely:

  • Opportunity to interact directly with people. This provides opportunities for clarification and probing of questions that would otherwise be incomplete, partial or superficial, encouraging more thorough and detailed information. Also, it allows for observation of nonverbal information (e.g., gestures, facial expressions, emotions), that may complement or contradict verbal communication, and other individual characteristics (e.g., general appearance).
  • Very flexible method. Interviews can be used at any stage of the research process: they can be used to identify areas of more detailed exploration; as part of the piloting and validation of other instruments; as the main way of data collection; to check whether interpretation of other data makes sense.
  • Usually, results are easy to understand. Researchers and decision-makers can readily understand the verbal responses of most participants, which is not always the case with quantitative data.
  • Appropriate to collect information from individuals who are not particularly literate.
  • When performed in a structured, standardized way, and with the appropriate number of people data can be analysed statistically, allowing for comparison of responses between different individuals.
  • Compared to focus groups, it is a more appropriate method to discuss sensitive, embarrasing, controversial  or personal issues.
  • Compared to focus groups, it is easier to study many different respondent segments or types and low-prevelance or hard-to-recruit segments.
  • Compared to focus groups, it usually requires less in terms of sampling management. It is easier to recruit and schedule the interview with the participants.



Disadvantages and limitations

Interviews have some disadvantages and limitations relative to other types of research, namely:

  • Data is open to bias. Bias may be introduced during the interview interaction, with interviewers unintentionally encouraging or discouraging the expression of particular facts and opinions, and/or during the interpretation of the interview data.
  • Conducting interviews is a skilled technique that requires training and practice, in order to reduce the bias introduced by the interviewer and make the data collection more effective.
  • Data can be voluminous, relatively unstructured and subjective, making summary analysis and interpretation of results difficult.
  • In the case of unstructured qualitative data, quantification and statistical analysis are limited.
  • Very time consuming and expensive method. This occurs due to the need for training (when interviewing large samples), coupled with the time-consuming aspect of the interview itself, and of the coding and analysis of the open-ended questions.
  • Generalizability of results to larger populations can be an issue when a small and unrepresentative sample of respondents is used.



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