Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Different types of Interviews

When we are constructing interview questions, there are a range of question types that we can consider, depending on the types of interview we are creating. There are considered to be two ends to the interview continuum:

  1. At one end we have the structured interview, where the questions, prompts and clarifiers are all determined ahead of time. This type of interview, if planned carefully, will give us some level of consistency across our collected data.
  2. At the other ends is the unstructured interview, where no questions are determined in advance, but will be entirely participant led, and its direction will depend on what the participant decides to share, and what questions the researcher decides to ask or what prompts the researcher uses.
  3. Somewhere between the two ends lies the semi-structured interview. This is "where research and planning produce a session in which most of the informant's responses can't be predicted in advance and where you as interviewer therefore have to improvise probably half - and maybe 80% or more - of your responses to what they say in response to your initial prepared question or questions" (Wengraf, 2002, p. 5).  

Further, Cooper and Schinder (2013) cluster question types into three sectors: those of administrative; classification; and target. They define these as follows:
  • Administrative questions identify the participant, interviewer, interview location, and conditions. These questions are rarely asked of the participant but are necessary for studying patterns within the data and identify possible error sources. 
  • Classification questions usually cover sociological-demographic variables that allow participants’ answers to be grouped so that patterns are revealed and can be studied. These questions usually appear at the end of [the instrument]. 
  • Target questions address the investigative questions of a specific study. These are grouped by topic in the survey. Target questions may be structured (they present the participants with a fixed set of choices; often called closed questions) or unstructured (they do not limit responses but do provide a frame of reference for participants’ answers; sometimes referred to as open-ended questions).
However, Cooper and Schinder's taxonomy is not the only one. There are a range of question types within the target questions, the subject of other posts (here and here).


  • Cooper, D. R. & Schindler, P. S. (2013). Business Research Methods (12th ed.). Irwin McGraw-Hill.
  • Wengraf, T. (2002). Qualitative research interviewing: Biographic narrative and semi-structured methods. SAGE Publications Ltd.

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