Social Research

Fourth edition

by Sotirios Sarantakos

Chapter 12 - Surveys: Interviews

Explore this chapter's resources further:
Educational objectives
After completing this chapter, you will:
  1. be familiar with the nature and complexities of survey research;
  2. have an understanding of the distinction between the various types of interview and their relevance to social research;
  3. have gained an appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of interviews as methods of data collection and their relevance to social research;
  4. have developed skills that will help with the construction and administration of interviews in a professional manner;
  5. have a critical awareness and appreciation of the place of interviews in quantitative and qualitative research, and of their limitations.


  1. Types of interviews
  2. Interviews in qualitative research
  3. Interviews in feminist research
  4. The interviewer
  5. The process of interviewing
  6. Interviewer respondent relationship
  7. Prompting and probing
  8. Narrative interview (NI)
  9. Intensive interviewing
  10. Telephone interviewing
  11. The interview context
  12. Advantages and limitations of interviewing
  13. Problems and errors in interviewing
  14. Non-response in interviewing
  15. Interviewing in the computer age
  16. Survey methods in comparison
  17. Steps in questionnaire construction
  18. Pre-tests and pilot studies
  19. Reviewing the questionnaire
  20. Relevance of the questionnaire
  21. Non-response in mail questionnaires
  22. Questionnaires in feminist research
  23. Strengths and weaknesses of questionnaires
  24. Questionnaires in the computer age

Points to remember

The following are the major points introduced in this chapter. Ensure that you are very confident with their meaning, content, context and significance.
  1. Interviews are surveys conducted orally.
  2. Interviews can be structured or unstructured, depending on the degree to which interviewers have to adhere to prescribed strict guidelines.
  3. Interviews can be standardised or unstandardised; the former contain fixed alternative questions, the latter open-ended questions.
  4. Individual interviews include one respondent at a time; group interviews include interviews with groups of people.
  5. Other-administered and self-administered interviews vary according to who administers the interview.
  6. Unique interviews are conducted once; panel interviews are repeated more than once.
  7. Open interviews are unstructured and unstandardised interviews.
  8. Ethnographic interviews involve key informants who convey information about the research question.
  9. Delphi interviews are ethnographic interviews conducted in stages and involving the participation of the respondents in data collection and analysis.
  10. Focused interviews are interviews focusing on a specific topic, which is presented through a stimulus such as a film, a written report or a situation.
  11. Narrative interviews introduce a topic for discussion and encourage the respondent to offer as much information as possible.
  12. Intensive interviews are mostly unstructured and unstandardised, aiming at an in-depth exploration of the issues in question.
  13. In qualitative research, interviews are single and personal, employ open-ended questions and are open and flexible.
  14. The tasks of the interviewer are, among other things, to choose the respondents (in quota sampling), arrange the interview conditions, ask the questions, control the interview situation, avoid bias, record the answers and guard the principles of ethics.
  15. Choosing interviewers to be similar in background with respondents not only makes entry into the world of respondents easier but also promotes trust, mutual understanding and cooperation and therefore reduces bias and distortion.
  16. Telephone interviewing produces quick results, can study large samples, is relatively economical, promotes open communication, reduces bias and guarantees more anonymity than face-to-face interviews.
  17. Telephone interviews have a high refusal rate, cannot control the identity of the respondent or the interview process overall, and cannot address all possible respondents (for example, those without a telephone, or with unlisted numbers).
  18. Interviews have many advantages and limitations of which the researcher must be aware when deciding on the appropriate method of data collection.
  19. Interviews can now be carried out via computers. CAPI and CODSCI are two examples of computer-driven interviews.
  20. Errors in interviewing can be associated with recording of data, evaluation of responses and instructions given to interviewers.

Short-answer questions

Answer each question carefully (there is no need to write down the answer). Consult your Social Research text when your memory fails you or when you are in doubt about the accuracy of your responses.
  1. List the major types of interviews.
  2. What are the differences between structured and unstructured interviews?
  3. What are the advantages and limitations of interviews?
  4. What are the main criteria of standardised and unstandardised interviews?
  5. Explain the nature and purpose of unique and panel interviews.
  6. Describe the nature and purpose of open interviews.
  7. Describe the nature and purpose of analytical interviews.
  8. What is the nature and purpose of diagnostic interviews?
  9. Explain briefly the nature and purpose of structure or dilemma interviews.
  10. Describe the nature and purpose of ethnographic interviews.
  11. Discuss briefly the nature and purpose of Delphi interviews.
  12. Describe the nature and purpose of clinical interviews.
  13. What is the nature and purpose of biographical interviews?
  14. Describe the nature and purpose of problem-centred interviews.
  15. Explain briefly the nature and purpose of focused interviews.
  16. Discuss briefly the nature and purpose of narrative interviews.
  17. What is the nature and purpose of intensive interviews?
  18. Illustrate the nature and purpose of receptive interviews.
  19. Describe the nature and purpose of convergent interviews.
  20. Explain briefly the nature and purpose of elite interviews.
  21. What are the criteria of qualitative interviews?
  22. Illustrate the main tasks of the interviewer?
  23. What are the standards of selection of interviewers?
  24. What are the main elements of interviewer training?
  25. In what ways can an interviewer bias the research process?
  26. Explain the differences between probing and prompting.
  27. What are the main types of probing?
  28. What are the advantages and limitations of telephone interviewing?
  29. Explain the ways in which computers can assist in the process of interviewing. Give examples of programs developed in this context.
  30. What are the main problems/errors affecting interviewing?
  31. In what ways can errors occur when recording interview data?
  32. In what ways can errors occur when evaluating interview data?

Fill-in questions

Click here to launch fill-in questions for chapter 12

True/false questions

Click here to launch true/false questions for chapter 12

Multiple choice questions

Click here to launch multiple choice questions for chapter 12

Practical exercises

  1. Devise an interview guide, including probes, prompts and relevant instructions for interviewers to be employed in an investigation of public attitudes to police brutality in Northern Newland (recently reported in the popular media).
  2. To establish the needs of young people in a rural town, the council decided to conduct an interview with persons under 21 years of age. Your task is to develop a complete interview guide and to arrange the interview conditions. Which type of interview is most suitable?
  3. You have been given the task of investigating low church attendance rates in your area. The method of data collection is intensive interviewing. Explain how you will address this problem, what arrangements you will make to collect the information and what precautions you will take to assure that the information you gather is genuine.