Data Collection Tools: The Interview as a Tool in Research

Seminar on
Data Collection Tools:
The Interview as a Tool in Research
A seminar paper submitted to the Dept. of Studies in
Library and Information Science, University of Mysore, Mysore in partial fulfillment
(Course Work) of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Mahesh G T
Research Scholar
Dept. of Studies in Library and Information Science
University of Mysore, Mysore
Guided & Supervised by
Dr. Adithya Kumari H
Associate Professor
DOS in Library and Information Science
University of Mysore, Mysore
Dept. of Studies in Library and Information Science
University of Mysore, Manasagangotri
Mysore – 06
1. Abstract
2. Introduction
3. Research Process
4. Data collection Tools: Interview as Data Collection Tool
5. Prerequisites for Successful Interview
6. Types of Interview
7. Advantages & Limitations of Interviewing
8. Recording Interview Data
9. Ethical Issues
10. Challenges in Data Collection
11. Conclusion
12. Bibliography
•Books are for use
•Every reader his or her book
•Every book its reader
•Save the time of the reader
•The library is a growing organism
Dr. S.R. Ranganathan (1892-1972)
In dealing with any real life (research) problem, it is often found that data at
hand are inadequate, and hence it becomes necessary to collect data that are
There are several ways of collecting the appropriate data which differ
considerably in context of money costs, time, and other resources at the discretion of
the researcher.
Research differs in many aspects, but they do have few similar aspects.
Many components are involved in conducting research. One very essential factor is
collection of data.
Data collection can be gathered from a number of sources, which includes
working environment, web technologies, focus groups, field notes, questionnaires and
recorded social interactions or interviews. This article focuses on interviews, as a data
collection tool, its types and some of the ethical issues involved in conducting
Define Research Problem
Review Concepts & Theories
Literature Review
Review previous research finding
Formulate Hypothesis
Research Design (Including sample design)
Data Collection
(Using Data collection Tools)
(Observation, Interview, Questionnaire)
Data Analysis
Interpret and Report
Research Process in Flow Chart
Data Collection
The successful completion of a sampling procedure connects the research with the
respondents and specifies the kind and number of respondents who will be involved. The
investigator knows at this stage not only what will be studied, but also who to approach for the
required information. The information will be available, provided that the right connection
between the researcher and the respondents is made.
This connection is made through the methods of data collection. While deciding
about the method of data collection to be used for the study, researcher should keep in mind
two types of data viz., Primary data and Secondary data.
Data Collection Method
Primary Data
Secondary Data
The primary data are those which are collected afresh and for the first time, and
thus happen to be original in character. Secondary data on the other hand, are those which
have already been collected by someone else and which have already been passed through
the statistical process.
Interviews as a Tool of Data Collection
Interviewing is a form of questioning characterized by the fact that
it employs verbal questioning as its principal technique of data collection.
Interviews are employed by people in everyday life, but as a
scientific tool of social research, or better as a method of data collection,
interviewing is different with regard to its preparation, construction, and
execution in that it is prepared and executed in a systematic way.
Interviews basically consist of asking questions, listening to
individuals and recording their responses.
Interviews allow participants to provide rich, contextual
descriptions of events. Interviews are a systematic way of talking and
listening to respondents and are another way to collect data from individuals
through conversations.
Kvale (1996) regarded interviews as “ an interchange of views
between two or more people on a topic of mutual interest, sees the
centrality of human interaction for knowledge production, and emphasizes
the social situatedness of research data.”
Interview is verbal questioning. In research, Lindzey Gardner has defined
interview as “a two-person conversation, initiated by the interviewer for the specific
purpose of obtaining research-relevant information and focused by him on the content
specified by the research objectives of description and explanation”.
Functions of interview
Two major functions of the interview techniques are
i. Description
The information received from the respondent provides insight into the nature
of social reality. Since the interviewer spends some time with the respondents, he can
understand their feelings & attitudes more clearly, and seek additional information
Interview provides insight into unexplored dimensions of the problem.
Characteristics of interview
Black & Champion have pointed out the following characteristics of an interview
i. Personal Communication.
ii. Equal status: The status of the interviewer & the interviewee is equal.
iii. Instant response.
iv. Temporary relationship between interviewer and the interviewee.
v. Considerable flexibility in the format of the interview.
Why Interview?
The most obvious way of finding the information is to ask someone who may be able to
help. Interviews also have a large number of potential advantages for a qualitative researcher.
Specifically, in an information setting some of the advantages are especially significant. There are
many reasons to use interviews for collecting data and using it as a research instrument. Gray
(2004) has given the following reasons
•There is a need to attain highly personalized data.
•There are opportunities required for probing.
•A good return rate is important (speed).
•When respondents are not fluent in the native language of the country, or where they have
difficulties with written language.
Prerequisites for successful interview
It is necessary for the researcher to prepare before the actual interview. The interview
starts before the interview actually begins. Once the interview is conducted the researcher
needs to make sure that the respondents have
• A clear idea of why they have been approached
• Basic information about the purpose of the interview and the research project of which
it is a part
• Some idea of the probable length of the interview and that you would like to
record it (explaining why)
• A clear idea of precisely where and when the interview will take place (Gillham, 2000).
The researcher ought to have the following skills and abilities for the effective
• An ability to listen
• An ability to be non-judgmental
• A good memory
• Ability to think on his/her feet
• Sense of humor
Interview Guide
An interview guide is also an essential component.
An interview guide is the list of questions, topics, and issues that the
researcher wants to cover during the interview.
It should be clear and avoid ambiguity.
The researcher ought not ask personal or illegal questions and be
comfortable with silences and wait for the respondent to speak.
WHO suggested six steps to devise an interview guide, which include
• Identify appropriate topics and questions
• Decide on the level of detail
• Draft the questions
• Order the questions.
• List any probes or prompts and
• Pilot the questions. Have the informant identify the problems during
the pilot.
Types of Interviews
There are many types of interviews, each of which differs from the others
in structure, purpose, role of the interviewer, number of respondents involved in
each interview, and form and frequency of administration.
Structured Interview
A structured interview is sometimes called as standardized interview.
Same questions are asked for all respondents.
Corbetta (2003) states structured interviews are” interviews in which all
respondents are asked the same questions with the same wording and in the
same questions with the same wording and in the same sequence.”
The aim is for all interviewees to be given exactly the same context of
The strengths of structured interviews are that the researcher has control
over the topics and the format of the interview.
On the contrary, drawbacks of structured interviews are they adhere too
closely to the interview guide and may be the cause of not probing for relevant
Semi-structured Interviews
In this Semi-structured interviewer the researcher has a list of key themes, issues,
and questions to be covered. Here the order of the questions can be changed depending on
the direction of the interview.
Corbetta (2003) explains semi-structured interviews as follows:
The order in which the various topics are dealt with and the wording of the
questions are left to the interviewer’s discretion. Within each topic, the interviewer is free to
conduct the conversation as he thinks fit,
Additional questions can be asked and some may be questions that have not been
anticipated in the beginning of the interview.
The strengths of semi-structured interviews are that the researcher can prompt and
probe deeper into the given situation. For example, the interviewer inquires about using
computers in library. Some respondents are more computer literate than others are.
The drawbacks are inexperienced interviewers may not be able to ask prompt
questions. If this is the case, some relevant data may not be gathered.
Unstructured Interviews
This type of interview is non-directed and is a flexible method. It is more casual
than the aforementioned interviews.
There is no need to follow a detailed interview guide. Interviewees are
encouraged to speak openly, frankly and give as much detail as possible.
The strengths of unstructured interviews are no restrictions are placed on
It is useful when little or no knowledge exists about a topic. So, background
data can be collected.
Unstructured interviews are flexible.
The drawbacks of unstructured interviews are that they can be inappropriate
for inexperienced interviewers. The interviewers may be bias and ask inappropriate
Non-directive Interviews
Questions are usually not pre-planned.
The interviewer listens and does not take the lead.
The interviewer follows what the interviewee has to say. The interviewee leads
the conversation.
The interviewer has the objectives of the research in mind and what issues to
cover during the interview. The interviewee is allowed to talk freely about the subject.
The interviewer’s role is to check on unclear points and to rephrase the answer
to check for accuracy and understanding (Gray, 2004).
Non-directive interviews have their origin in dynamic psychology and
psychotherapy with the objective to help patients reveal their deep-seated and
subconscious feelings.
The strengths of non-directive interviews are to find the deep-seated problem
and the subconscious feelings.
On the other hand, the drawbacks are that there are no directions or issues to
explore which can cause some problems in coding and analyzing the data.
Analytical interviews
These types of interviews are based on theoretical foundation and serve
to analyze concepts, theories, social relationships and events.
Diagnostic interviews
Diagnostic interviews aim at ascertaining specific attributes of the
respondents, offering a diagnosis of the respondent who is expected to assist in
achieving goal.
Structure or dilemma interviews
In these interviews the interview guide and the order of questions are
relatively firmly set, but they allow freedom to add supplementary questions.
Ethnographic interviews
In its general form it has the purpose of studying cultures and their
manifestation on people. It aims to discover cultural meanings as conceptualized
by individuals, search for cultural symbols, and establish relationships between
cultural symbols and in general to explain the meaning of the culture for people.
Delphi interviews
The interviewer questions persons who are experts in the area of study. These experts
are asked to offer information, pass judgments on the issue in question and make relevant
After the discussions are integrated into the initial report, they are offered again to the
experts for further comment and discussion. This procedure of interview, discussion and
consideration continues until a stable judgment is reached.
Clinical interviews
Used more in the area of psychology, social work and social welfare, this form of
interview is employed mainly in order to diagnose and interpret a certain illness. It is however also
employed outside these areas, such as in sociology. (e. g. family on personal development,
deviant behavior, of young children are studied).
Biographical interviews
A biographical interview is an interview form employed to study the life history of a
respondent. It is often carried out in conjunction with document analysis,
Focused interviews
This was developed by R K Merton in the 1940’s in the context of propaganda
research, and analysis of mass communication. it focuses on a specific topic, which respondents
are asked to discuss, thereby providing their views and opinions on the research question.
Elite interviews
it involves elites that is, well known personalities, prominent and influential people as
respondents. It therefore aims at collecting information that is exclusive and unique to these
informants. That information is very valuable because of the special position of the respondents.
These respondents are quite knowledgeable, not only about interviewing, but also about research
Soft interview
Here the interviewer guides the respondents without putting any pressure on them.
Hard interview
The interviewer questions the validity and completeness of the answers obtained, often
warning the respondents not to lie and forcing them to give an answer when they hesitate.
In-depth Interview
An in-depth interview is a dialogue between a skilled interviewer and an interviewee. Its
goal is to elicit rich, detailed material that can be used in analysis (Lofland and Lofland, 1995).
It is much less formal than the semi-structured interview. While you have structured
some basic questions on paper, the discussion on the issue is largely free- ranging. When you
intend to collect complex information, containing a high proportion of opinions, attitudes and
personal experiences of the respondents, you go in for in-depth interview.
For an in-depth interview, the sample is kept small. Only a few purposively selected
people are subjected to a detailed interview.
Focus Groups
Focus groups combine elements of both interviewing and participant observation.
Use of the group interaction to generate data.
The technique inherently allows observation of group dynamics, discussion, and
firsthand insights into the respondents’ behaviors, attitudes, language, etc.
Focus groups are a gathering of 8 to 12 people who share some characteristics
relevant to the problem.
Focus groups conducted by experts take place in a focus group facility that includes
recording apparatus (audio and/or visual).
Telephone interviews
Telephone interviewing demonstrates the same structural characteristics as
standard interviewing techniques, except that it is conducted by telephone.
These are employed when the interviews are simple and brief, when quick and
inexpensive results are sought, when it is not required to approach the respondent face to face
and when sampling inaccuracies (e.g. non subscribers and unlisted numbers) are not considered
Interviewing in the computer age
The development of computers has affected many aspects of life of every Individual
and consequently the researcher, the interviewer and the interviewee. The following are some
examples of computer packages that are relevant to interviewing.
Computer-aided personal interview (CAPI)
This program allows interviews to be carried out through the assistance of
computers, whereby to a certain extent the computer takes the place of the interviewer.
Questioning and control of the responses is done through the computer.
Computer-driven self – completion interview (CODSCI)
The interview is carried out in a computer session in which the respondent reads
the questions from the computer screen in direct communication with the computer.
After completion of the interview, the responses are saved automatically in the
memory and further added to previous interview data.
Computer-aided telephone interview (CATI)
Here the computer is used by the interviewer, who reads the questions to the
interviewee through the telephone as it appears on the screen and records the response in
the computer.
It can draw the sample, choose the telephone number, dial the respondent
through a self-dial system and connect the interviewer with the interviewee.
Advantages of interviewing
Flexibility & High response rate
Easy administration & Opportunity to observe non-verbal behavior
Control over the environment and order of the questions
Capacity for correcting misunderstandings by respondents: Such an option is very
valuable and not available in other forms of data collection.
Opportunity to record spontaneous answers
Control over the time, date, & place of the interview
More complex questions can be used, because the presence of the interviewer can assist
in answering the questions.
Despite the above advantages, interviewing is limited by some factors that cannot be overlooked
Interviews are more costly and time consuming than other methods.
Interviews are affected by the factor, interviewer & the possible bias associated with.
Interviewing is more inconvenient.
It is less effective than other methods, when sensitive issues are discussed.
Recording interview data
Interview data can be recorded using electronic device (with the permission of the
participants) and/or summarized in notes. These require carefully crafted interview guides with
ample space available for recording the interviewee’s responses. Three procedures for recording
the data are presented below.
In the first approach, the interviewer listens to the tape or any other device and
writes a verbatim account of everything that was said.
A second possible procedure for recording interviews draws less on the word-byword record and more on the notes taken by the interviewer or assigned notetaker.
In the third approach, the interviewer uses no tape recording, but instead takes
detailed notes during the interview and draws on memory to expand and clarify the notes
immediately after the interview.
Ethical Issues
In conducting interviews, ethical issues are one of the main concerns.
Confidentiality must be given.
Explain purpose and objective of research
Confidentiality of the data
Data access and ownership
Data collection boundaries
Challenges in Data collection
Making initial contact
Creating an
with participants to
atmosphere of
ensure they will consent trust.
to be interviewed.
Scheduling interview
participants to
times suitable for both open up.
interviewer and
interruptions and
Finding place to
getting the
conduct session devoid interview back on
of noise, interruptions track.
and other distractions.
Dealing with
Ensuring recording
equipments is in good outbursts.
working order.
Coping with
Taking adequate and
interviewees who
appropriate notes
do not wish to be
during the interview.
Data Maintenance
Understanding the
financial labour and
human energy costs of
Focus Group
Finding a time for all Protecting the
participants to attend anonymity of
the session.
Hitting upon an
Securely storing data
incentive that will
from the project so that attract and secure
it can be easily located. participants.
Dealing with backup
computer files.
Protecting participant
anonymity in files.
Deciding how to
handle off the record
information disclosed
during the interview
that is potentially
Ensuring conversation
balance among
Deciding whether or
not to share personal
Handling experts,
experiences with
dominant talkers,
obnoxious or shy
Ensuring that each
participant is not
rushed through a
reply and everyone
has the opportunity to
Interviewing as a data collection method is common for qualitative
research studies. Although methodology may cause the process of interviewing to
differ, many methods are similar. The researcher must make pre-interview contact,
prepare for the interview by drafting an interview guide, conduct the interview
using good communication skills, oversee transcription of audiotapes or videotapes,
and ensure that the transcripts provide the basis for analysis. Although the process
of interviewing can be time-consuming and costly, it also can be a rewarding
experience for the researcher.
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