Qualitative Methods

4. Interviews and Focus Groups

Interviews are often used in quantitative research. Table 4 shows the rather different aims of qualitative interviews.

Table 4

Typology of Interview Strategies

Type of interview Required skills
Structured interview

Neutrality; no prompting; no improvisation; training to ensure consistency

Semi-structured interview

Some probing; rapport with interviewee; understanding of project’s aims

Open-ended interview

Flexibility; rapport with interviewee; active listening

Focus group

Facilitation skills; flexibility; ability to stand back from the discussion so that group dynamics can emerge

Source: adapted from Noaks and Wincup, 2004:80

The open-ended interview seeks to collect ‘rich data.’ The keynote of such interviews is active listening, in which the interviewer “allows the interviewee the freedom to talk and ascribe meanings” while bearing in mind the broader aims of the project (Noaks and Wincup, 2004:80).

These aims have been described as “understanding the language and culture of the respondents” (Fontana and Frey, 2000:654). In order to achieve such an understanding, according to Fontana and Frey, the open-ended interviewer must resolve these problems:

  • Deciding how to present one’s self, e.g. as a student, as a researcher, as woman-to-woman, or simply as a humble learner;
  • Gaining and maintaining trust, especially in cases where one has to ask sensitive questions; and
  • Establishing rapport with respondents, i.e. attempting to see the world from their viewpoint without ‘going native’ (Fontana and Frey, 2000:655).
Noaks, L. and Wincup, E. (2004) Criminological research: Understanding qualitative methods. London: Sage.
Fontana, A. and Frey, J. (2000). The interview: From structured questions to negotiated text. In N.Denzin and Y.Lincoln (Ed.s), Handbook of qualitative research (2nd Ed.), London: Sage: 645-72.