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Qualitative study design



Interviews are intended to find out the experiences, understandings, opinions, or motivations of participants. The relationship between the interviewer and interviewee is crucial to the success of the research interview; the interviewer builds an environment of trust with the interviewee/s, guiding the interviewee/s through a set of topics or questions to be discussed in depth.


Interviews are the most commonly used qualitative data gathering technique and are used with grounded theory, focus groups, and case studies.

  • Interviews are purposive conversations between the researcher and the interviewee, either alone or as part of a group
  • Interviews can be face to face, via telecommunications (Skype, Facetime, or phone), or via email (internet or email interview)
  • The length of an interview varies. They may be anywhere from thirty minutes to several hours in length, depending on your research approach
  • There are three types of interviews generally used in qualitative research; structured, semi-structured, and unstructured
    • Structured interviews use a set list of questions which need to be asked in order, increasing the reliability and credibility of the data but decreasing responsiveness to interviewee/s. Structured interviews are like a verbal survey
    • Unstructured interviews are where the interviewer has a set list of topics to address but no predetermined questions. This increases the flexibility of the interview but decreases the reliability of the data. Unstructured interviews may be used in long-term field observation research
    • Semi-structured interviews are the middle ground. Semi-structured interviews require the interviewer to have a list of questions and topics pre-prepared, which can be asked in different ways with different interviewee/s. Semi-structured interviews increase the flexibility and the responsiveness of the interview while keeping the interview on track, increasing the reliability and credibility of the data. Semi-structured interviews are one of the most common interview techniques.


strengths Strengths

  • Flexible – probing questions can be asked, and the order of questions changed, depending on the participant and how structured or unstructured the interview is
  • Quick way to collect data
  • Familiarity – most interviewees are familiar with the concept of an interview and are comfortable with this research approach


limitations Limitations

  • Not all participants are equally articulate or perceptive
  • Questions must be worded carefully to reduce response bias
  • Transcription of interviews can be time and labour intensive


iconExample questions

  • What are the experiences of midwives in providing care to high-risk mothers, where there is a history of drug or alcohol use?



Babbie, E. (2008). The basics of social research (4th ed). Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth

Creswell, J.W. & Creswell, J.D. (2018). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods approaches (5th ed). Thousand Oaks: SAGE

Jamshed, S. (2014). Qualitative research method-interviewing and observation. Journal of basic and clinical pharmacy, 5(4), 87-88. doi:10.4103/0976-0105.141942

Lindlof, T. & Taylor, B. (2002). Qualitative communication research methods (2nd ed). Thousand Oaks: SAGE .