Chapter 10: Qualitative Data Collection & Analysis Methods

10.2 When should qualitative data collection be used?

Interviews are an excellent way to gather detailed information. They also have an advantage over surveys. For example, with a survey, if a participant’s response sparks some follow-up question in your mind, you generally do not have an opportunity to ask for more information. In an interview, however, because you are talking with your study participants in real time, you can ask that follow-up question. As such, interviews are a useful method to use when you want to know the story behind responses you might receive in a written survey.

Interviews are also useful when the topic you are studying is rather complex, when whatever you plan to ask requires lengthy explanation, or when your topic or answers to your questions may not be immediately clear to participants who may need some time or dialogue with others in order to work through their responses to your questions. Also, if your research topic is one about which people will likely have a lot to say or will want to provide some explanation or describe some process, interviews may be the best method for you.

Interview research is especially useful when the following are true:

  1. You wish to gather very detailed information.
  2. You anticipate wanting to ask respondents for more information about their responses.
  3. You plan to ask a question that requires a lengthy explanation, such as about the participants’ lived experience or recollections (i.e. emotional, psychological, physical, intellectual, cultural, racial, etc.).
  4. The topic you are studying is complex or may be confusing to respondents.
  5. Your topic involves studying processes.

Qualitative interview techniques and considerations

Qualitative interviews are sometimes called intensive or in-depth interviews. These interviews are semi- structured— the researcher has a particular topic about which he or she would like to hear from the respondent, but questions are open-ended and may not be asked in exactly the same way or in exactly the same order to each and every respondent. In in-depth interviews, the primary aim is to hear from respondents in their own words what they think is important about the topic at hand, . In this section, we will examine how to conduct interviews that are specifically qualitative in nature, analyze qualitative interview data, and use some of the strengths and weaknesses of this method.