Chapter 10: Qualitative Data Collection & Analysis Methods

10.7 Strengths and Weaknesses of Qualitative Interviews

As the preceding sections have suggested, qualitative interviews are an excellent way to gather detailed information. Whatever topic is of interest to the researcher can be explored in much more depth by employing this method than with almost any other method. Not only are participants given the opportunity to elaborate in a way that is not possible with other methods, such as survey research, but, in addition, they are able share information with researchers in their own words and from their own perspectives, rather than attempting to fit those perspectives into the perhaps limited response options provided by the researcher. Because qualitative interviews are designed to elicit detailed information, they are especially useful when a researcher’s aim is to study social processes, or the “how” of various phenomena. Yet another, and sometimes overlooked, benefit of qualitative interviews that occurs in person is that researchers can make observations beyond those that a respondent is orally reporting. A respondent’s body language, and even her or his choice of time and location for the interview, might provide a researcher with useful data.

As with quantitative survey research, qualitative interviews rely on respondents’ ability to accurately and honestly recall whatever details about their lives, circumstances, thoughts, opinions, or behaviors are being examined. Qualitative interviewing is also time-intensive and can be quite expensive. Creating an interview guide, identifying a sample, and conducting interviews are just the beginning of the process. Transcribing interviews is labor-intensive, even before coding begins. It is also not uncommon to offer respondents some monetary incentive or thank-you for participating, because you are asking for more of the participants’ time than if you had mailed them a questionnaire containing closed-ended questions. Conducting qualitative interviews is not only labor intensive but also emotionally taxing. Researchers embarking on a qualitative interview project with a subject that is sensitive in nature should keep in mind their own abilities to listen to stories that may be difficult to hear.