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Interview in Research

Interview in Research

There are many instances in our lives where we engage in an interview — for example, a job interview or an interview to join school clubs. In business, interviews are also common. Marketers mostly use them to research customer behaviour and collect original data for marketing purposes. In this explanation, you'll learn all about qualitative research interviews and how they are conducted.

Interviews in Qualitative Research

An interview is a qualitative research method used to collect primary data. It involves asking one or more people about their opinions on a company, a product, or a topic.

Being qualitative in nature means that interviews focus on personal experience rather than numerical facts. Thus, the primary purpose of interviews is to gain insight into customers' behaviours, attitudes, and opinions. Compared to other types of primary research, interviews often have a higher response rate and provide more reliable results.

An interview is a research method that involves asking questions to collect data.

Check out our explanation on Primary Data Collection to learn more about primary research methods.

Types of Interviews in Research

Companies can choose from several types of interviews to research customers: structured, unstructured and semi-structured interviews. The interview format varies, from face-to-face to online, one-on-one to focus groups.

Structured interview in research

The first type of interview in research is a structured interview.

A structured interview is one where the researcher asks the participants a list of questions that have been prepared in advance.

These questions are closed-ended and appear in a set order. The respondents are expected to answer yes, no, or a short response. Sometimes, they might choose from a pre-selected list of answers.

Some examples of questions in a structured interview are:

  • Do you shop online often?
  • What are two products you often shop for online?
  • Which website do you use to shop online?
  • How likely are you to recommend this website to others?
  • How much do you spend on online shopping per month? (Less than £100 / £100 – £500 / £500 – £1000 / More than £1000)

A structured interview is like a survey or questionnaire. However, it is conducted verbally rather than in written form.

Structured interviews can be used in both explanatory and exploratory research. Their "uniform" nature allows the researcher to spot significant trends in consumer behaviour.

A structured interview also saves time as the questions only have to be prepared once and repeated in multiple interviews. However, the rigid structure might limit spontaneity and in-depth responses.

Unstructured or non directive interview in research

The opposite of structured interviews is unstructured interviews. Unstructured interviews do not rely on prearranged questions but follow up based on interviewees' responses. Unstructured interviews are sometimes called non-directive interviews. "Non-directive" means not prepared/prearranged. The interview has no structure or scoring. It is conversational. The researcher can ask anything they want, depending on the interviewees' responses.

The questions are often open-ended to encourage people to express themselves and give honest feedback.

Here are some examples of unstructured interview questions:

  • Describe a negative shopping experience you had.

  • Describe a positive shopping experience you had.

  • What is your biggest challenge while shopping online?

  • Why do you shop online with us?

  • How could we improve our service?

Like structured interviews, the main goal of an non directive interview is to collect customer data. However, it does so in a more friendly and conversational way.

Non directive interviews give researchers a lot of flexibility but can be time-consuming to conduct. They create a friendly atmosphere that allows participants to open up. They are more exploratory than directive (structured) interviews. However, the lack of structure can make the participants wander off and provide irrelevant information.

Semi-structured interview in research

A mix of structured and unstructured interviews is called a semi-structured interview. Semi-structured interviews include a list of predetermined questions, yet not set in order. The interviewer can choose what to ask depending on the situation.

Semi-structured interviews maintain a reasonable degree of flexibility and validity. Researchers can collect more detailed responses yet not commit as much time and effort as in an unstructured interview.

Structured InterviewNon-structured InterviewSemi-structured Interview
Ordered questionsyesnoyes
Fixed questionsyesnosome
Types of questionsclosed-endedopen-endedclosed and open-ended

Table 1. Comparison of different interview methods, StudySmarter Originals

Interview format

All three types of interviews above can be conducted in different formats: focus group, one-on-one, online, and phone.

Focus group

A Focus group is an interview format that includes a moderator and a group of participants meeting face-to-face. The method allows the researcher to observe the participant's body language and engage in interesting conversations. It is easy to prepare focus group meetings, and the results are often reliable. The only drawback is that small sample sizes might not represent the entire group.

interview in research focus group StudySmarterFocus group for interview research, Unsplash

One-on-one interview

The opposite of a focus group interview is a one-on-one interview. This is where the interviewer speaks to only one person at a time. This method can remove distractions and group bias but takes more time and effort to set up interviews with multiple people.

Online interview

Both focus groups and one-on-one interviews can be conducted online through video-conferencing tools such as Zoom and Google Meetings. Online interviewing saves time, money, and effort and allows the business to engage people from different parts of the world in real-time.

Interview in research Zoom meeting example StudySmarterZoom Meeting for interview research, Unsplash

Phone interview

If in-person or online interviews are not viable, there is another quick way to collect customer opinions— phone interviewing. This method does not always guarantee a response, though it is relatively cheap and does not require the participants to meet face-to-face.

Importance of Interviews in Research

Interviews in qualitative research come with many benefits.

First, it is a way of obtaining original data directly from customers.

In surveys and questionnaires, people can lie if they don't remember the exact details of their behaviour or want to appear intelligent. People are more likely to answer truthfully when meeting face-to-face with a person.

Researchers can choose from several interview methods depending on the research purpose, time, and budget:

  • Structured interviews provide access to a large number of people quickly and efficiently.

  • Unstructured interviews provide deeper insights into consumer behaviour and give the researcher more flexibility in directing the discussion.

Secondly, interviews have a higher response rate than emails and questionnaires.

Inboxes are black holes for emails. Most people receive a company's survey via email and never open it. When given a request for an interview, they are more likely to accept and commit their time.

Interviews also allow researchers to watch the customers' body language and form a deeper connection with them. This increases their chance of getting an honest answer.

Interviewer bias

While interviews are an effective primary source, they are subject to interviewer bias and errors. Interviewer bias happens when the interviewee lets his subjectivity (personal opinions, thoughts, attitudes) affect the research outcome.1 For example, the interviewer reacts differently around interviewees from different backgrounds or asks leading questions.

The best way to avoid interviewer bias is to use an interview guide and make the interview process more structured. An interview guide is simply a document that defines the structure of the interview - what questions to ask and in which order. This ensures the same experience for all interviewees.2

Interview Methodology in Research

The objectives of the interviews are as follows:

  • Collect primary data

  • Exchange ideas

  • Spot patterns and trends

  • Discover opportunities for improvement

To achieve these objectives, the researcher needs to develop an effective interview methodology consisting of the following steps.

Interview in Research: Define research objectives

The first step is to define the research objectives.

Why is the research conducted? What kind of data is expected from it?

During this step, the researcher has to determine the number of interviews, the estimated number of quality responses, the research budget and the deadline.

Interview in Research: Select interview format

After determining the research objectives, the researcher needs to select an interview format - directive or non-directive, one-on-one or focus groups, online or offline.

The interview format will determine the questions and how the interview is carried out.

For example, structured interviews may include a list of closed-ended questions, whereas unstructured interviews may include several critical open-ended questions and leave room for spontaneity.

A traditional interview will require the moderator to set up a physical meeting in a specific location. In contrast, researchers can conduct an online interview without participants leaving their homes.

Interview in Research: Select the right interviewees

The next step before the interview is to narrow down the number of interviewee candidates. The smaller the group, the higher quality it might yield.

Companies can select interviewees based on demographics - age, location, job title, status, income levels - or psychological characteristics - lifestyles, personality, core values, interests, and attitudes.

Interview in Research: Contact and interview

Finally, the interviewer will contact the customers to set up an interview via phone or email. Before the interview, they must prepare a list of questions and responses for the interviewees.

Here are some examples of questions that researchers might include in an interview:

Close-ended question:

  • Do you consider yourself a green buyer?

Open-ended questions

  • How often do you shop for green products?

  • What is your opinion on greenwashing?

General questions:

  • How did you hear about our company?

  • Why did you decide to participate in the interview?

Interview in Research - Key takeaways

  • An interview is a qualitative research method that involves asking questions to collect data.
  • There are three types of interviews: structured, unstructured, and semi-structured.
    • A structured interview includes mostly closed-ended questions arranged in a set order.
    • Unstructured interviews are made up of open-ended questions, leaving more room for spontaneity.
    • Semi-structured interviews are a good mix of structured and unstructured interviews.
  • Interviews can be conducted online, in person, and with one or more people.
  • Companies should choose the type of interview based on their research objective, time, and budget.
  • Interview methodology includes four main steps: define interview objective, select interview format, select the right candidate, contact and interview.


  1. Intervieweer, Interviewer Bias In User Research & Steps To Conquer It, https://www.interviewerr.com/interviewer-bias/, 2019.
  2. Neelie Verlinden, The Interview Guide: 7 Key Elements, https://www.aihr.com/blog/interview-guide/.

Frequently Asked Questions about Interview in Research

Interviews are a great primary data source for research papers and projects. To include an interview in a research paper, you must first identify the research objectives, select the interview format, and then contact and interview the chosen interviewees. 

An interview guide can provide a focus for an interview. It is simply a list of key questions and topics you will cover in the interview. 

Interviewer bias happens when the interviewer allows his subjectivity (personal opinions) to affect the research's objectivity. The best way to avoid interviewer bias is to use an interview guide and make the interview process more structured.  

The main advantages of interviews in research include a higher response rate and more comprehensive, in-depth results. 

The main disadvantages of interview research are interviewer bias and errors. This happens when the interviewer lets his own opinions distort the outcome of the research. 

Final Interview in Research Quiz


Interview is a research method that involves ________________.  

Show answer


asking questions to collect data

Show question


There are ______ main types of interview in qualitative research. 

Show answer



Show question


The main types of interview in research are: 

  • ___________
  • ___________
  • semi-structured interview

Show answer


  • structured interview
  • unstructured interview

Show question


What type of interview includes mostly closed-ended questions?

Show answer


structured interview

Show question


What type of interview includes mostly open-ended questions?

Show answer


structured interview

Show question


Questions asked in a prearranged order are likely to appear in __________.

Show answer


structured interviews

Show question


An unstructured interview is formal and inflexible. 

Show answer



Show question


A structured interview is highly flexible. 

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Show question


___________ is the mixture of structured and unstructured interviews. 

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Show question


Fixed questions are asked in ___________.

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semi-structured interviews

Show question


Name three interview formats.

Show answer


  • Online interview
  • Focus group
  • One-on-one

Show question


Focus groups can take place both online and offline. 

Show answer



Show question


Interviews are _____________ research.

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Show question


Interviews tend to have higher response rate than surveys and questionaires.  

Show answer



Show question


What is not a benefit of interviews in research?

Show answer


quality answers

Show question


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