Interview Method of Collecting Data – Essay

An interview is a means of gathering information in which one person asks another either in person directly, or indirectly. Interview, is an effective, informal verbal or non-verbal conversation, initiated for specific purposes and focused on certain planned content areas. Definition of Interview

(i) According to Young, as the very term implies, “interviewing is an interactional process”.

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(ii) According to Gopal, “The interview is conversation with a purpose and, therefore, is more than a mere oral exchange of information.”

(iii) In general, it can be said that an interview is face-to-face verbal interchange in which one person, i.e., the interviewer, attempts to elicit some information or expressions of opinion from an­other person or persons regarding a particular issue.

Interview is Not Just Conversation:

“Interviewing is not a simple two-way conversation between an interrogator and informant. Gestures, glances, facial expressions, pauses often reveal subtle feelings. Voice, inflictions and halt­ing statement can be as much a part of the interplay between the conversing persons and their ques­tions and answers.”

Much can be understood by means of verbal expressions and also from the use of sounds. Furthermore, not only reaction to a statement but also attitudes can be learned from a blush, nervous laugh, sudden pallor or undue embarrassment. This behaviour is in itself important data for the interviewer.

The interaction that takes place in an interview is highly complex. A minute change of facial expression, a slight tensing of a muscle, the flick of an eye, a trace of a change in emphasis, a slight change in one’s rate of speaking, one’s choice of words, and other involuntary reactions that may not involve spoken words can be comprehended by a shrewd interviewer. Every interview has its own balance of revelation and of withholding of information.

Major Objectives of the Interview:

The objective of an interviewer in any interview is to know the mind, opinion, attitudes and feelings of an interviewee with regard to a particular object or situation. The objectives of the inter­view may be exchange of ideas and experiences, eliciting of information pertaining to a wide range of data in which the interviewee may wish to rehearse his past, define his present and canvass his future possibilities. The task of the interviewer is to penetrate the outer and inner life of persons and groups.

As T. W. Adorno points out, it is the task of an interviewer “to ascertain opinions, attitudes, values that (are) on the surface ideological trends that (are) more or less, inhibited and reach the surface only in indirect manifestations; and explore personality forces in the subject’s unconscious­ness.”

The Process of Interview:

A systematic interview may consist of the following stages:

1. At the beginning of the interview, the interviewer has to introduce himself to the interviewee in a very polite manner to win over his confidence.

2. The very nature and purpose of the interview must be made known to the interviewee so as to dispel the undesirable anxiety and tension.

3. The interviewer may ask some serious questions in the beginning and later on talk freely with the interviewee.

4. The interviewer may also assist the interviewee in eliciting information from him and must prompt here and there depending upon the need.

5. Questions must be put in a systematic manner and in a lucid language.

6. The interviewer must encourage the interviewee to talk freely and can jot down points dur­ing brief pauses.

7. The interview must not be closed suddenly and abruptly.

8. The interviewer must be very careful in writing the report. He must also make observations about the feelings, emotions, facial expressions, and gestures of the interviewee and must give due weight age for them.

Types of Interview:

There are different classifications of interview on the basis of different criteria. Interviews may be classified in various ways – according to their function (diagnostic, treatment, research, sample interviews), or according to the number of persons participating (group or individual interviews) or length of contact (short or long contact) or type of approach (directive or non-directive, structured or unstructured). Types of interviews are based chiefly on the respective roles assumed in them by interviewer and interviewee. The following types of interviews may be noted.

(i) The Non-Directive interview.

(ii) The Directive Interview.

(iii) The Focused Interview.

(iv) The Repeated Interview.

(v) The Depth Interview.

This type of interview is also known as uncontrolled or unguided or unstructured interview. In this kind of interview, interviewer does not follow a system or list of predetermined questions, interviewees are from interviewer, to provide their own definitions of their social situations, report their own foci of atten­tion, reveal their attitudes and opinions as they see fit.

The unstructured interview is much more flexible and “open-ended”. The researcher puts more general questions to the respondents, allows them to answer freely, and follows up on their com­ments. This approach allows the researcher to get insights that a structural interview may ignore.


The unstructured interview has its own limitations. During a free-flowing inter­view, the non-directive interviewer at times is at a loss to know how actively he should participate during the course of the discussion.

As long as pertinent facts are being related and the informant shows no signs of lack of interest, the interviewer need only round out discussion by raising addi­tional questions, if need be.

The unstructured interview approach has its other disadvantages. The answers are often ex­tremely difficult to compare. If people are asked, for example, “Do you intend to vote at the next parliamentary elections?” they will give such answers as – “May be” “/ might, if I feel like it”, “Depends on who contests “, “I suppose so”, “I have not dcidedyet”, and so on.

The researcher also has to be on guard against influencing the respondents’ answers by such subtle signals as choice of words, tone of voice, and facial expressions. He has to put questions in straight forward and unemotional language which must be phrased in such a manner that all respon­dents will understand them in the same way.

The question “Are you religious”? for example, is absurd, in the sense, it will be interpreted in different ways by different people. It is on the other hand, necessary to ask specific questions about – attending temples or churches, belief in rituals, God, and so on. Further, questions must be put in a very natural and neutral manner.

Unstructured interview essentially demands the training of the interviewer. A mere training in the social skill of keeping a conversation going on a topic which the respondent may not be very interested, is not sufficient.

He must have the sensitivity to link the responses of his respondents to the theoretical topic that he is pursuing, wherever it is possible. This means unstructured interviews can only be carried out by people trained in sociological theory.

An Illustrative Example of Unstructured Interview:

Elizabeth Bolt’s (Bott-1957) study of twenty London families can be cited here as a good example of unstructured interviewing. Bott was interested in the way in which husbands and wives divided the domestic tasks between themselves, and wanted to relate this division of labour to the structure of friendships the couple had with others. A structured interview could hardly be successful on a topic as delicate as this.

Even if Bott were to resort to observation method, she would have had to combine herself solely, to those families with whom she was able to live, and not with all the twenty families. On the average, Bott conducted 13 interviews with each family and each such interview lasted for more than 80 minutes.

The interviews tended to be a friendly exchange of infor­mation rather than a matter of question and answer. Needless to say, a seasoned interviewer such as Bott was a great success in her study of those families.

(ii) The Directive Interview or Structured Interview:

This interview uses a highly standardised technique and a set of predetermined questions. It is especially useful for administrative and market research of various types.

In a structured interview the researcher has a checklist of questions and puts them to the re­spondents in exactly the same form and exactly the same order. The respondent is asked to choose between several predetermined answers such s “Yes/no/don’t know”, or “very likely/likely/unlikely/ very unlikely”. This type of interview is very inflexible.

Merits and Limitation:

The structured interview method has its own merits. Since the interviewer follows a predeter­mined set of procedure there will be less scope for interference by the interviewer himself. By asking the predetermined questions he can maintain his objectivity. This will force the interviewer to con­fine himself to the topic only rather than asking about some irrelevant questions.

The main merit of the structured interview is that it helps the researcher to make careful tabu­lations and comparisons of the answers. If other information about the respondents is included, such as income, geographic location, or age, all these variables can be fed into a computer, and correla­tions between them can be extracted within seconds.

The object of using structured interviews is to standardise the interviewer’s personal approach or biases may have upon the results. If proper train­ing is given to the interviewer it would further ensure the reliability and validity of the results.

The limitation of this interview is that, we cannot use this type of interview in all situations. Further, the questions that are used here may fail to elicit the real opinions of the informant.

(iii) The Focused Interview:

This is differentiated from other types of interviews by the following characteristics.

(i) It takes place with persons known to have been involved in particular concrete situation. (These persons have seen a particular film, heard a particular broadcast, or have participated in a particular ceremony.)

(ii) It refers to situations which have been analysed prior to the interview.

(iii) It proceeds on the basis of an interview guide which outlines the major areas of the inquiry and the hypotheses which locate pertinence of data to be secured in the interview.

(iv) It is focused on the subjective experiences-attitudes and emotional responses regarding the particular concrete situations under study.

In this type of interview the interviewee is given considerable freedom to express his definition of a situation that is presented to him. Therefore, focused interview is considered as semi-standardised.

The focused interview is based on the assumptions that through it, it is possible to secure pre­cise details of personal reactions, specific emotions, definite mental associations provoked by a certain stimulus and the like. The focused interview is not being used as widely as its merits deserve probably because it requires extreme care in preparation and exceptionally sophisticated handling by skillful interviewers.

(iv) The Repeated Interview:

This type of interview is particularly useful in attempts to trace the specific developments of social or psychological process (that is, the progressive actions, factors or attitudes which determine a given behaviour pattern or social situation).

Paul Lazars field and his associates made extensive use of this repeated interview technique in their study of how the voter makes up his mind in a presidential campaign. These interviews secured the progressive reactions of the voter and also helped to know about the influence of various factors entering into the choice of a president.

The repeated interview technique is expensive in time and energy and money but it offers the advantage of studying the progressive actions and events as they actually occur.

The data secured through focuses as well as repeated interviews lend themselves to quantita­tive interpretation. Because, they are consistent and specific and aim at realisation of details which can be differentiated, tabulated and ultimately measured.

The depth interview:

This kind of interview aims to elicit unconscious as well as other types of material relating especially to personality dynamics and motivations. It is generally a lengthy procedure designed to encourage free expression of information charged with emotions.

It may be used along with special devices such as free association and projective techniques. When used carefully by an interviewer having specialised training the depth interview can reveal important aspects of psycho-social rela­tions which are otherwise not readily available. Unless the researcher has specialised training, it is better not to attempt depth interviewing.

Crucial Points in the Interview:

There are certain critical points which need special attention in interviewing:

1. The appearances of the interviewer must not be too strange or remote. He must dress and try to act in a similar way with that of the other people.

2. He must establish a good rapport with the interviewees and try to be friendly with them.

3. He must not impose his own will on the interviewees to get information since the interviewed has the right to deny giving answers.

4. Interviewer must, as far as possible, avoid arguments, insults and ambiguous and confusing terns. Double-barreled questions such as “Do you think that mercy-killing and corporal punishment be legalised?”- Necessarily create confusions in the minds of the respondents. Because, people may have different opinions about two subjects.

5. Questions must not be asked immediately about the subject in which the interviewer is interested.

6. He must take down the responses of the respondents without approval or disapproval.

7. The interviewer must have patience to hear the interviewee.

8. If the interviewer wants to get the personal views of opinions of the interviewee, then he must assure him that his expressed views will be kept in secret.

9. The interviewer must understand that his object is to elicit the opinions of the interviewee and not to exhibit his intelligence or shrewdness.

10. The interviewer who conducts the interview will be benefited if he himself goes through an interview with others who are good in interviewing.

Advantages and Limitations of Interview:


1. Through interview it is possible to secure relatively dependable information about issues, peoples and events.

2. Interview may help us to obtain in-depth knowledge of social issues.

3. It is possible to secure information about the past, present and also about future course or plans in somewhat a detailed manner.

4. The active and intelligent role of the interviewer can add to the high rate of response.

5. The interview method can be used to obtain information from almost all types of persons.

Disadvantages and Limitations:

1. Many disadvantages of this method arise due to the incapability of the interviewer.

2. Prejudices or bias developed knowingly or unknowingly by the interviewer may completely mislead the outcome of interview.

3. The interviewer may fail to select a “right “person (due to defective sampling procedure) to obtain information.

4. Possibilities of the interviewer and the interviewee having diving divergent, often antago­nistic, views and outlook cannot be overlooked. This situation may create confusion in the course of the interview or it may spoil its outcome.

5. Interviewing is a difficult skill and it needs an intense and time-consuming training.

6. Interview by itself is incomplete and needs to be supplemented with other methods such as observation.

7. There is no guarantee that the interviewee gives his honest opinions on the issues referred to him. Hence his information may mislead the outcome of the interview.

8. One major danger with interview is that when. People are asked to report on their own behaviour they may tend merely to mention the formal rules of social behaviour, rather than recount exactly how they actually behave. Bott found this in her study.

She knew that one woman held strong views about the desirability of easy divorce. Yet in a meeting of women’s association, the same woman spoke out against easy divorce. This she did, probably because she felt it necessary to stress the “respectable” norm of the sanctity of marriage even though her personal or private opinions were just contrary to that.

The same thing can happen in interviews also. Particularly in face-to-face interviews, respondents may give false information. People may deny their racist views or caste- mindedness or communal bias, because, they know that these views are not “respectable”.


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