Tag Archives: qualitative research design

Qualitative Interview Designs

The critical part of a research process is the data collection procedure. Even if you have an apt and interesting topic with an appropriate framework, if the corresponding data collection method is a slapdash, the results would be unreliable and weak. Research is scientific, that is, it should follow a carefully planned methodology.

Interview, for one, is not just going into the field and starting the conversation after obtaining the consent of the participant, and preparing a set of questions and recording tools. It should be designed.

How many levels should it take? How will the interaction flow? What should be the medium of dialogue? The answers should always correspond to the objectives of the research.

Setting Style

One-shot. For baseline exploratory design, this one setting interview would be enough. If the goal is just to provide an initial reference for a specific inquiry, then a follow-up may not be necessary. All the inquiries could be compressed in one short time. Rapport could be built within the first part of the interview. This is ideal for less sensitive and/or simple topics that do not require extensive data.

Multi-tiered. For emergent design and/or in-depth inquiry, a multilevel setting interview is recommended. When topics are more sensitive, more complicated, and more prone to biases and prejudice, a strong rapport is needed to encourage the full disclosure of the participant. This implies longer time for rapport building. You may set the first level for establishing the needed relationship and for preparing the participant for the next level/s. For example, you may start with the easiest and most comfortable topics and may ask the general questions in this level. This deductive arrangement will guide and help the participant retrieve, organize and share the information needed. If the approach is emergent, the next levels will provide opportunity for clarifications and confirmation as a result of preliminary analysis.

Interaction Design

Structured (Narrow Setting). This design is formal and is strictly on the script which could be a highly organized questionnaire set or a standardized interview schedule (Best & Kahn, 1995). The interviewer follows the protocol in uniformity so as to have maximum control of the setting to minimize extraneous variables such as the possibility of researcher influence like gender, age, biases, emotions, preconceptions, assumptions, and the like. Extraneous variables are those which may contaminate the data from the participants. For example, an interview with women participants, if the interviewer is a woman, the interviewee might be more accommodating and open. In another interview of the same topic and participant, if the interviewer is a man, the interviewer’s gender may influence the way the participant provides the answer.

Semi-structured. This design requires a prepared guide question (schedule) that is flexible but retains continuity with spontaneity and fluidity of the conversation process. If the conversation slightly deviates from the topic, the interviewer allows it but tactically returns to the topic to maximize resources. This is usually recommended if the inquiry may allow other important information that may emerge and thus may enrich the data (Dawson, 2007).

Unstructured (Free-flowing Conversation). In Filipino indigenous method, this is known as pakikipagkwentuhan. There is no need for a guide question or list of topics here. The interviewer has only the topic and allows wherever the conversation flows with little directional influence from him/her. The interviewer subtly emphasizes the topic to serve as cue (for the participant) to put into the surface all the elements of the data that the researcher wants to extract from the participant. Interviewer may ask questions sometimes to clarify some information and to retain the conversation process. This design is ideal for in-depth studies like life history and phenomenological research (Marvasti, 2004).

Medium of Dialogue

Face-to-face. This is the most common medium since this allows collection of other details like behavioural and context observation. This is ideal for in-depth study since in this kind of inquiry, trust is critical for rapport.

Phone Interview. This is suggested if distance will not allow a face-to-face interaction and/or the goal is for the participant to answer few simple questions for structured or semi-structured design. This is an alternative to face-to-face interview if the verbal data are the only source for analysis and behavioural and context observation like facial expression and physical setting are no longer necessary for the research.

Online. This could be a video call or internet chat. Chatting is ideal for interviews that allow anonymity of the participants and/or interviewer. This could also be useful in minimizing extraneous variables to reduce bias (Jupp, 2006). While a video call could be a substitute to face-to-face interview.


Best, J.W. & Kahn, J.V. (1995). Research in education. New Delhi: Prentice-Hall of India Private Limited

Dawson, C. (2007). A practical guide to qualitative research: A user friendly manual in mastering research techniques and projects. Oxford: How To Content.

Jupp, V. (2006). The Sage dictionary of Social Science research methods. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications

Marvasti, A.B. (2004).Qualitative research in Sociology: An introduction. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

© 2015 February 1 J. G. Pizarro