What is a semi-structured interview?

It is a qualitative method of inquiry that combines a predetermined set of open-ended questions with the opportunity fir the interviewer to explore particular themes or responses further.

A semi-structured interview is used to understand how interventions work and how they can improved. It allows respondents to discuss and raise issues that you may not have considered.

What are the pros and cons of semi-structured interviews?

Pros:

  • provide valuable information from the context of participants and stakeholders experiences
  • the use of predetermined questions provides uniformity

Cons

  • can be time-consuming to collect and analyse data
  • requires some level of training or practice in order to prevent interviewer suggesting answers

Semi-structured interview guidelines

  • Prepare for the interview
    • make sure you are clear about what information you want to get
    • make sure you are clear as to who you want to speak to
    • determine how you will collect the information (recording, take notes, both)
  • Inform the respondent about the reason for questions
    • it is important and ethically important to be open and transparent with the interviewee as to why you are speaking to them and how the information they provide you will be used
    • get consent if you are recording the interview
    • you may need written consent depending on the organisation you are coming from
  • Recording Answers
    • recording notes can be done through writing notes, audio recording or both
    • taking written notes is seen as less threatening & it also keep the interviewer involved in the process
    • it allows the interviewer to highlight key points they may want to probe further
    • it may make the production of final notes and its evaluation easier because you don’t have to scrape through large files of transcripts
    • if using audio recording, make sure it works and make sure that transcription software is available
  • Develop a rapport with the respondent
    • getting information from the interviewee will be easier if they are comfortable with the interviewer
    • this can be done by asking non-probing questions before the interview begins such as how they are doing and did they have a nice weekend etc.
  • Ask questions that lead detailed answers 
    • ask questions that don’t require a yes or no answer
    • ask open-ended questions that require detailed answers
    • How and What questions
      • how did you find out about this project
      • what hurdles do you face when it comes to teaching science to students in junior cert
    • It is good to have a set of questions at hand but the interviewer needs to be prepared to expand on the predetermined questions
  • When to end an interview
    • the interviewer may feel they have exhausted all the questions and are getting no more new information, or the respondent appears tired or the respondent may have other commitments to attend to
    • summarize the key points the respondent has provided and this gives them a chance to clarify or expand on them
    • thank them for their time & provide them with the interviewer contact details

Analyzing & making sense of the data

  1. Ensure you organize and manage your responses 
    1. consider allocating unique identifiers to the respondents and their transcripts or notes in a spreadsheet
    2. enter the respondents details and develop codes to categorize by demographic or knowledge/attitude traits to help future data analysis
  2. Identify and interpret common, recurrent themes 
    1. review data to identify common, recurrent or emerging themes
    2. it’s advisable to have a second person review the data for a fresh perspective and this may conform themes, lead to new themes or a discussion about how the information is interpreted
    3. it is also the opportunity to discard information that is not relevant to the questions you need answered
  3. Entering responses and coding the data
    1.  enter the responses into the data collection table (see below)
    2. questions can be entered based on their number or a question identifier
    3. have one theme per line to help coding, especially if respondents have both positive and negative answers to questions
    4. code the responses based on themes (e.g. workshops)
    5. you may also want to code whether the answer was positive or negative
  4. Analyzing patterns amongst themes 
    1. look to see if there are similar traits between respondents who present the same themes
    2. this can be done by sorting the columns by question number or by respondent or response code
    3. analyzing patterns allows the evaluation to move from a descriptive role to an analyzing role
  5. Present your evaluation
    1. present the results of the analysis by identifying patterns, what does this mean for the project and what can be done next to improve or build upon the responses
    2. use respondent quotes to back up or support your analysis

Template for analyzing the data (Excel Document): 

Responses Sheet

responses-sheet

Response ID

responses-id

Response Coding

response-coding

Reference:

http://evaluationtoolbox.net.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=31&Itemid=137

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Other interview guidelines

  • inform the interviewee of the measures you have taken to protect confidentiality and anonymity
  • if it’s your first interview with the person, ask a few background questions first such as the interviewees job title, responsibilities, time with the organisation etc. This can get the interviewee “warmed up” and into an interview mode
  • Rapport – be aware of your non-verbal communication, i.e. smiles, seating position, eye contact, open/closed body position
  • prepare and save until later in the interview, questions on specific facts or other items of interest
  • if the interview follows up an observation, you may want to ask questions about specific messages or exchanges – important to use non-leading questions such as “What did you mean when you said….?”
  • use probes carefully to get more in-depth answers
  • sometimes silence is the best probe – being silent when interviewees pause can encourage them to continue. Don’t interrupt a good story either, instead make a note and probe it later on
  • when ending the interview it is a good idea to ask “Is there anything else you’d like to tell me?”
  • immediately after the interview, test the recorder to ensure it recorded the entire interview, fill in the gaps in your notes and write down impressions

Reference:

Zorn, T. (2008). Designing and conducting semi-structured interviews for research. Waikato Management School, Waikato, 11. Retrieved from http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&btnG=Search&q=intitle:Designing+and+Conducting+Semi-Structured+Interviews+for+Research#0

 

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