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Interviews as a Research Method: Dig Deep into an Issue, Follow Up for Clarification, Analyze for Major Themes

Research Method

There are several different ways to conduct an interview, and we will briefly outline some of the most popular methods that researchers use.

Get Participatory! A great way to ensure the relevance of the questions you ask is to involve those you want to study in the process of crafting questions themselves.

Informal and Conversational

In this approach, the interviewer comes in with few, if any, predetermined questions and lets the person being interviewed take the lead.  This is a risky approach if you have a specific research question in mind, but can be useful if you are looking to explore an issue in broad strokes, or just get the perspective of particular people.  For instance, in the Metamorphosis Project example, the researcher might begin by asking, “Can you talk about the role that your church plays with Latino immigrants in the community?”, and simply let the conversation flow from there.  Each individual interview could be very different from the others.

Thematic Guide

In this approach, the interviewer comes in with a few basic themes or issues that they would  like to discuss with the participant.  This ensures that they will have some consistency from one interview to the next, but still leaves lots of room for exploration and gives the participant a good deal of freedom in the conversation. 


For instance, the Metamorphosis Project researcher might have four main themes to cover:
  • The Catholic Church and immigration issues and law enforcement
  • The Catholic Church and community service, poverty and health issues of local Latino immigrants
  • The Catholic Church and local policy issues related to local Latino immigrants
  • The Catholic Church and the relationship between African American and Latino community residents

Open-Ended Interview Guide

This approach is one of the most widely used, as it allows for a lot of comparison from one interview to the next.  In this case, the researcher will come in with a pre-determined set of questions that they would like to be answered.  The questions will be open-ended, meaning there is no one answer, and the response could take the form of an extended conversation on each topic.

 A set of open-ended questions might take this form:

  • What do you see as the most important thing the Catholic Church does for new Latino immigrants?
  • What are the biggest obstacles that Latino immigrants in your community face on a daily basis?
  • Does your Church do anything to try to bridge connections between Latinos and African Americans in your community? Could you talk about how these initiatives have been successful and what types of problems they have faced?
  • Does your Church get involved in local policy issues that affect the Latino immigrant population?  In what ways?
  • What is the relationship between your church and immigration enforcement?
  • What do you think your Church could improve about your work with local Latino immigrants?

Closed-Ended Interview Guide

This is the most restrictive approach for interviewing, and might be suitable for people who are new to interviews or uncomfortable carrying on a wide-ranging conversation.  This type of interview is similar to a survey, with specific questions asked of each interview respondent, and a list of specific possible responses offered. 

 Here are a few potential closed-ended questions:

How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements – would you say you strongly disagree, disagree, neither agree/nor disagree, agree, or strongly agree.

  • My Church spends a lot of time helping the local Latino immigrant population.
    How much do you agree or disagree with that statement?
  • My Church works hard to bridge connections between local African Americans and Latinos.
    How much do you agree or disagree with that statement?
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