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What do you consider to be the main problems with interviewing as a data collection technique Essay

“Interviewing as a method of inquiry is universal in the social sciences”. Interviewing is an empirically based piece of social research, whether it’s in psychology, anthropology or sociology, interviewing is the most widely used and important tools for data collection. It is a method that sees each individual as a unique being.

This research is more interested in the depth of the data rather than breadth and requires the researcher to play an active role in the data collection. An interview occurs when a participant is asked questions that have been designed to elicit particular types of information. Interviewing is a skilled activity, because of its interpersonal nature. (Jensen et al 1991) “It is a technique used especially in the area of ethnographic research”.

Initial focus on this essay will be about, the main problems with interview as a data collection technique and how to minimise the impact of these problems therefore, the way this essay will be structured is because interviewing in social research is vast due to many different methods of interviewing only Face to Face interviews and Group interviews will be critically assessed and illustrated, the key advantages and main problems will then be emphasised and it will then show how to minimise the impact of these problems.

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Telephone and Email interviews will then be critically assed, the key advantages and main problems be emphasised. The central argument of this essay will be the impact of the problems in interviewing, cannot be resolved but only be minimised. The overall conclusion will then support my argument. There are different types of interviews in social research these are: Face to face interviews this is more traditional. (Frey et al 1995) define it as, “a purposeful conversation in which one person asks prepared questions (interviewer) and another answers them (respondent)”.

This is done to gain information on a particular topic or a particular area to be researched. Interviews are a useful tool which can lead to further research using other methodologies such as observation and experiments. Face to face interview is a self-report method using a structured, semi-structured or unstructured approach. Structured standardised interview. In a structured standardised interview or in other words structured (directive) interview, the interviewees would be asked the same set of questions in exactly the same order.

This approach is much more standardised using a pre arranged list of answers for the respondent to choose from. There is little freedom for flexibility, due to the fixed question order. (Wimmer et al 1997), “each person is given the same questions therefore being uniform”. There would be no room diverging from the script (Isp interviews) “the questions have to be answered in a preset order (strict schedule: same questions and same order)”, the reason why it is done this way is if the interviewees are asked the same question exactly the same way, then the differences in the response can be assumed to be real and legitimate.

Also the answers can be quantified and statistic analysis can be performed. The idea of a structured interview is to minimise biased in reactivity, and its trying to be consistent in the way interviewees are asked questions about certain issues therefore structured interviews are inflexible. They are done exactly the same way and often these kinds of interviews are easily coded.

In comparison to this is the in depth interview which has more elicit complex answers these are semi structured interviews (Alexander Edu) “i. . more open than structured, keys issues are listed as an ‘aide memoire'”. A semi structured interview uses a schedule of questions very much like a questionnaire. It is the most common method used for collecting qualitative data. Interviewees are encouraged to give their views and perspectives about the topic areas noted in the guides. These interviews tend to be flexible and explorative and allow for unexpected changes in dialogue, furthermore not all questions are designed and phrased ahead of time.

The majority of questions are created during the interview, allowing both the interviewer and the person being interviewed the flexibility to probe for details or discuss issues. Nevertheless, the interviewer is responsible for making sure all relevant topics are covered. Semi-structured interviews focus on collecting, and formally capturing details about feelings and experiences. Therefore in a semi structured interview the questions are not religiously asked exactly the same order or exactly the same wording in comparison to absolute structured interview.

The diametric opposite of a structured interview is an unstructured interview. Open-ended or unstructured interviews are none directive and have lots of open ended questions. It is defined by, (Nichols et al 1991) as, “an informal interview, not structured by a standard list of questions. Fieldworkers are free to deal with the topics of interest in any order and to phrase their questions as they think best. ”

This type of structure uses a broad range of questions asking them in any order according to how the interview develops. Wimmer et al 1997) “Open-ended questions allow the interviewer, if they wish, to probe deeper into the initial responses of the respondent to gain a more detailed answer to the question”. The richness of the data is therefore entirely dependant on the interviewer. They themselves, must judge how much or how little they should probe. In an unstructured interview the interviewer works from a list of general topics but greater freedom to explore areas of interest. A typical example of this is an oral history interview.

Often oral history interviews are used in older people whom have a lot of history for example, working in the mines or the front line of the Second World War. This type of interview is not confined therefore there is an unstructured approach to ask people about experiences that are complex and difficult. In an unstructured interview the interviewer does not give any pointers as to which direction the interview is going, one or two questions may be used to start off, but from then on, the only questions are probes, where the interviewer asks for more elaboration.

This allows the respondent to talk about there experience freely and this allows the respondent to have complete control over the content of the interview. The key advantages of face to face interviews are, Rapport, when an interviewee actually has agreed to engage on an interview it is much easier to establish a rapport, in comparison its very difficult to establish a rapport in a questionnaire or a postal survey in which the person has no obligation to the interviewer therefore there is always a terrible response rate.

Once there is someone in the interview room they may not give all the information that the interviewer needs, however the interviewers now in a position to use there social skills to try to make them feel comfortable, this allows the interviewee to trust the interviewer and be more forth coming, hence rapport can easily be established. Clarification of questions, in an interview if the interviewee does not understand a question, the interviewer can clarify it.

Unlike questionnaires in which if the participant does not understand the question they will normally randomly tick any box, therefore ambiguities can be clarified and incomplete answers followed up, also interviews gives. Probing, interviews give the (Hyman 1954) “the ability to clarify answers by probing matters that emerge in the course of the interview”. Open ended questions allow the interviewer, to probe deeper into the initial responses of the interviewee to gain a more detailed answer to the question.

Also the interviewer, can probe for deeper answers, ask for elaboration and examples, discover new relationships, and modify questions as time goes on. Rich in data, interviews are good at obtaining rich detailed data for example personal feelings, perceptions and opinions therefore detailed information is gained on issue discussed, unlike to questionnaires. However there are also key problems with face to face interviews these are:

Time consuming, compared to other research methods interviews are extremely time consuming as a data collection technique depending on the research, due to carrying out so many in depth interviews in addition the interviewer can only question one person at a time compared to questionnaires were a researcher can get large amount of data in very short time. To minimise the impact of this problem the researcher can begin by choosing a subject of research upon that does not require too much data collection.

Furthermore the interviewer can shorten the interview also design the questions and the structure of the interview in a way that it is not too time consuming. In addition keep the interview in relative focus therefore the interviewee does not diverge from what is relevant. Transcribing, as interviews are in depth and sometimes require tape recording because it is hard to remember every little detail in the interview, it takes extremely long time to transcribe an interview, especially unstructured interviews (Lse Elite) “it is estimated that one hour interview takes ten hours to fully transcribe”.

To minimise the impact of this problem, if the intention and goal of the researcher is to fully transcribe the interview material, to help themselves, is to transcribe as the interviews goes on therefore at the end of the series of interviews they are not left with a mountain of transcription to undertake. In addition, if transcription is built into, and runs parallel with, the interviewing phase itself, the researcher will be able to see, rapidly, the quality and character of the evidence that is emerging. In this sense, it will aid the researcher in refining or amending the research agenda as they go along.

Reliability, as everyone has natural limitations of memory, in an interview there is always a problem that the interviewee is extremely solvent to miss telling because they just can’t remember, retrospectively about things that happened in the past. In addition the interviewee knows that they are there to tell a story and knows that the interviewer will be disappointed if they don’t have the information to give therefore the problem is they are going to tell the interviewer something that may not be accurate.

This is a problem of data collection because the data that is collected in interviews are then going to be used to feed into policy issues therefore the information that is given has to be as accurate as humanly possible. To minimise the impact of this problem, before the interview occurs the interviewer can tell the respondent in advance what will be discussed in the interview and stress how important it is for the respondent to remember the issue that is going to be discussed, this will then allow the respondent to research upon the issue and be prepared.

Also during the interview the interviewer can probe more deeper into certain issues therefore they can relies whether the interviewee is telling the truth or just saying what they want to hear. Access, it is incredibly difficult to interview and study a population in some respect marginal to society or as hidden away such as an illegal sub culture. It is impossible to get legitimate research because if they know that they are talking to a social researcher they will either not talk to them or doctorate what they have to say, in addition its impossible to get legitimate research.

Therefore often access is a key issue with hidden population, illegal sub cultures, sensitive population or any kind of sensitive activity for example, sub cultures of cultures, sub cultures of homelessness and etc. To minimise the impact of this problem, before research project takes place the social researcher must consider to them selves realistically if the population is accessible, because if it isn’t then there is no point doing the project.

However if there is a slight chance to access this population then in order to research upon it the social researcher can be covert and gain there trust, this is exemplified by a famous study called “Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places” by Laud Humphreys in the 1970s. Humphreys did this controversial study about gay sex in public. He was really interested in the fact that given how much homophobia is in society at that time, gay men were really causative in there ability to come out in public and engage in impersonal homoerotic activity.

In order for him to research this he had to be covert and gain there trust so people would think he was just another gay person who wanted to observe. This controversial example emphasises how someone would not have ordinarily gained access that went on to engage on a highly questionable form of social research. Reactivity, the interview is a highly reactive method, this is why standardised structured interviews interviewers do it in this way to minimise reactivity. Even semi structured and unstructured interview in which it is very easy going it is still reactive.

This means anything about the interview or the situation in which the interview bias the result of what the person says, for example gender, race and ethnicity, age, the way they are dressed and etc. these seemingly small things can make a huge impact on how the interviewee relates to the interviewer furthermore how the interviewee will divulge or not divulge information. Therefore reactivity is really important because interviewees would look at the interviewer and make certain judgments that may effect they want the researcher to hear this is called social desirability effect.

Due to this problem being a problem of human nature this problem cannot be resolved only minimised this gives support to my overall argument. In order to minimse the impact of this problem, (Hyman 1954) “improvement in selection and training of interviewers or improvement in general personal policy which will reduce turnover among better interviewers or attract people of superior ability to interviewing work”. This means in order to reduce problems of reactivity the interviewer must be well trained so any problems of reactivity can be dissolved through out the interview.

Also the social researcher and interviewees should be matched by gender, ethnicity and race, class and etc. Another form of interviewing is Group interviews or Focus groups. This is where a group of respondent are brought together in a room and asked questions or given prompts to discuss particular issues and the idea is rather then just getting information on a one to one bases , when there is a group of people, sometimes the conversations an sometimes the listening to something that someone says will elicit information that the interviewer wouldn’t normally get in on a one to one perspective.

Participants will respond to and build on what others in the group have said. Sometimes synergistic approach is believed to generate more insightful information and encourage participants to give more candid answers this can elicit some really interesting conversation, one example of a focus group interview was done by Beck and Bargman in 1993, “Investigating Hispanic adolescent involvement with alcohol”. Focus group interviews were conducted with Hispanic teenagers to explore their patterns of alcohol consumption, influences on drinking and possible intervention strategies.

The findings revealed that drinking and alcohol impaired driving are common in addition the strong influence of peers was detected where drinking to “fit in” and be part of the crowd was also observed. The key advantages of Group interviews these are, Cost, compared to interviewing face to face it is relatively inexpensive because instead of just interviewing one by one, the interviewer can interview a whole group of people. Clarification of questions, if the respondents were unclear about the meaning of a question they could ask for clarification.

Rich in data, people may be more relaxed and open in a group interview because individuals know that they are not the centre point this will allow them to be open and talk freely about in depth issues, therefore social interaction in the group provides more free and complex answers, However there are also key problems with Group interviews these are, Dominant leader, the presence of a very dominant person in the group can color the responses of the entire group.

One person may consistently undermine the others, therefore dominating the conversation. The impact of this problem can be minimised by when an interviewer sees that there is a dominant leader amongst the entire group that is dominating conversations the interviewer can either ask the dominant to leave or not take any actions because it may also be that other respondents ideas spark new ideas with others, creating a snowball effect.

Generalisation, there is a problem as to whether the group represents a larger population. The key problem is how can the findings of a group be generalised to the entire population because not everyone is like this. To minimise the impact of this problem social researchers can do group interviews around the city or country on all walks of life for example, rich, poor and etc depending on the research, they can then match the data together and come to a reasonable conclusion on the entire population.

Transcribing, tape recording and then transcribing, the purpose of this is to get a record of the document by typing it out there is a written form which then can be analyzed and studied because it is impossible to write everything down however to transcribe a two hour long in group interview takes a very long time because the interviewer would have to transcribe every single word, every single phrase in exactly the way it was said and who said it.

There are other methods of interviews such as telephone interview in which interviewers contact people and do surveys, and also email interviews in which interviewing people through email due to inappropriate location, schedule conflict, or different time zones and etc. Both of these methods have strong advantages such as telephone interviews which are relatively inexpensive, easy to do, quick at obtaining large amount of data in a very short time and also email interviews (Gillham 2005) “like face to face interview, email interviews can yield good quality data often “colorful material” which is quite specific”.

Moreover an email interview requires considerably less investment of time. The key advantage is its speed and flexibility as Michael Benedikt, editor of the book cyberspace in (Gillham 2005) “In patently unreal and artificial realities… the principle of ordinary space and time can be violated with impunity”.

This means in terms of the interviewer and interviewee relationship enquiries and responses can be posted and received out side office hours and in a variety of location for example at work, home, hotels, airports and etc. Email interviews are good with very busy individuals, who might not want to commit themselves physically for an hour interview may be willing to devote more time to and email response which they work on as and when it suits them.

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