Section 4.9 Methods

Section 4.9 Methods

Section 4.9 Methods


An interview can be defined as a “conversation with a purpose” (Dexter 1970). There are many different forms of interview but the major distinction is between ‘structured’ or ‘focussed’ interviews and ‘unstructured’ or ‘exploratory’ interviews.


In a structured interview, the questions are set in advance and the interviewer does not deviate from these. The interviewer may ask for clarification or elaboration but, otherwise, remains ‘objective’ in the sense of not trying to influence what the respondent says.


An unstructured interview is a spontaneous or free-flowing conversation rather than a specific set of questions asked in a predetermined order. Questions are adjusted according to how the respondent is reacting. Consequently, in a series of interviews, respondents might be asked very different things.


The semi-structured interview is the compromise - the general content and order of questions is pre-determined but deviations for additional exploration is allowed. This form of interview is particularly useful in situations where there is a broad understanding of what is not known and / or a broad consensus over what constitutes the key issues to be investigated.


This method is likely to be impractical and ineffective in large classes if a representative sample is required. It becomes useful if there are particular students that you would like to receive feedback from or if you simply require a few brief, unstructured interviews to get a general idea of student perceptions.


Activity 4.9

Interviews, although potentially be very beneficial, are fraught with difficulties. What would you identify as the main problems and how could these be addressed/avoided?

Submit your answers

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