In-Depth Interviewing Techniques

In-depth interview is an intensive and searching interview aiming at studying the respondent’s opinion, emotions or convictions on the basis of an interview guide. Conducting an in-depth interview requires much more training on inter-personal skills than structured interview. This deliberately aims to elicit unconscious as well as extremely personal feelings and emotions.

In-depth interview is generally a lengthy procedure designed to encourage free expression of affectively charged information. It requires probing. The interviewer should totally avoid advising or showing disagreement. Of course, he should use encouraging expressions like “uh-huh” or “I see” to motivate the respondent to continue narration. Some times the interviewer has to face the problem of affections, i.e. the respondent may hide expressing affective feelings. The interviewer should handle such situation with great care.

Many researchers don’t know how to conduct an in-depth interview well. Here are some tips for conducting more effective in-depth interviews.

  1. Start the interview. Carry it on in an informal and natural conversational style.
  2. Ask all the applicable questions in the same order as they appear on the schedule without any elucidation and change in the wording. Ask all the applicable questions listed in the schedule. Do not take answers for granted.
  3. If interview guide is used, the interviewer may tailor his questions to each respondent, covering of course, the areas to be investigated.
  4. Know the objectives of each question so as to make sure that the answers adequately satisfy the question objectives.
  5. If a question is not understood, repeat it slowly with proper emphasis and appropriate explanation, when necessary.
  6. Talk all answers naturally, never showing disapproval or surprise. When the respondent does not meet the interruptions, denial, contradiction and other harassment, he may feel free and may not try to withhold information. He will be motivated to communicate when the atmosphere is permissive and the listener’s attitude is non judgmental and is genuinely absorbed in the revelations.
  7. Listen quietly with patience and humility. Give not only undivided attention, but also personal warmth. At the same time, be alert and analytic to incomplete, non specific and inconsistent answers, but avoid interrupting the flow of information. If necessary, jot down unobtrusively the points which need elaboration or verification for later and timelier probing. The appropriate technique for this probing is to ask for further clarification in such a polite manner as “I am not sure, I understood fully, is this….what you meant?”
  8. Neither argue nor dispute.
  9. Show genuine concern and interest in the ideas expressed by the respondent; at the same time, maintain an impartial and objective attitude.
  10. Should not reveal your own opinion or reaction. Even when you are asked of your views, laugh off the request, saying “Well, your opinions are more important than mine.”
  11. At times the interview “runs dry” and needs re-stimulation. Then use such expressions as “Uh-huh” or “That interesting” or “I see” “can you tell me more about that?” and the like.
  12. When the interviewee fails to supply his reactions to related past experiences, represent the stimulus situation, introducing appropriate questions which will aid in revealing the past. “Under what circumstances did such and such a phenomenon occur?” or “How did you feel about it and the like.
  13. At times, the conversation may go off the track. Be alert to discover drifting, steer the conversation back to the track by some such remark as, “you know, I was very much interested in what you said a moment ago. Could you tell me more about it?”
  14. When the conversation turns to some intimate subjects, and particularly when it deals with crises in the life of the individual, emotional blockage may occur. Then drop the subject for the time being and pursue another line of conversation for a while so that a less direct approach to the subject can be made later.
  15. When there is a pause in the flow of information, do not hurry the interview. Take it as a matter of course with an interested look or a sympathetic half-smile. If the silence is too prolonged, introduce a stimulus saying “You mentioned that… What happened then?”

In summary, in-depth interviews involve not only asking questions, but systematically recording and documenting the responses to probe for deeper meaning and understanding.

Credit: Research Methodology-MGU

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