Interviewing is one of the methods used by researchers to obtain primary information from the source. Interview methods have been described in many ways.
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Cohen and Manion (2000) define interviews as a verbal exchange, usually perpetrated by two individuals, guided by the interviewer whose primary objective is to obtain the appropriate information necessary for the research. During the interview, the researcher is in control.
The researcher directs the conversation to focus on the matter specified by the research objectives. By doing this, the researcher is able to obtain the information necessary to arrive at an organized description or come up with an explanation for the phenomena being investigated.
Another definition of interviews is offered by Moser and Kalton (1993) who describe interviews as an exchange between the interviewer and the interviewee, where the interviewer’s primary goal is to obtain helpful information from the interviewee.
This information assists the interviewer to delve deeper into analysis and therefore enhance the research.
Ary, Jacobs and Razavich (2002) note that among the various tools for collecting information available to the researchers, interviews aid in the collection of reliable information.
In addition to this, they have the merit of enabling the interviewer to re-state the questions to the subject and therefore make the meaning of the questions clearer to the interviewee. This is unlike other methods of enquiry, which do not provide the means for clarification.
For example, questionnaires do not give the respondent the change to seek clarification on what they are being asked. According to Nachmias and Nachmias (1996), the interview is a face-to-face interpersonal role situation that is specially structured to extract answers relevant to the research hypotheses from an appropriate subject.
While interviews might be structured in nature, semi-structured interviews are the most commonly used tools in qualitative research. By definition, semi-structured interviews are a mix of structured and unstructured interviews as elements of both are present in the semi-structured interview (Sarantakos, 1998).
In the semi-structured interview, the interests of the interviewee guide the path taken by the interviewer. For this reason, even an inexperienced researcher might be able to obtain rich data from the informant using this method (Smith et al. 1999).
In addition to this, the semi-structured interviews have an inherent flexibility that surpasses that of other methods such as structured interviews and questionnaires (Smith et al., 1999). Through interviews, the interviewer is able to pursue interesting issues as they appear.
The researcher can encourage the participant to expound on particular issues of interest. The participant also has the opportunity to express personal views on the topic and vividly elaborate on experiences, therefore giving information that might be of importance to the research (Smith et al., 1999).
Semi-structured interviews are most suitable for researches where the goal is to explore the perceptions and experiences of the participants.
When used as a data collection method, semi-structured interviews have a number of significant merits and demerits.
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The first advantage is that these interviews serve as vital sources when obtaining case study information (Yin, 1994). Another merit is that semi-structured interviews give the researcher the ability to delve deeper into data collection efforts (Cohen & Manion, 1980).
In addition to this, the interviewer is imbued with great flexibility since the questions can be adapted to suit the prevalent situation (Wallace, 1998).
Bell (1999) corroborates this observation by noting that interviews have “adaptability” where the interviewer can add or change the questions in light of new information provided by the participants. Skilled interviewers are able to pursue ideas expressed by the interviewee and investigate opinions.
This would not be possible using questionnaires or structured interviews. The researcher also has the opportunity to learn differently from the participant through the face-to-face interaction (Cohen & Manion, 2000).
Another major merit of interviews is that they make it possible to obtain additional information about the interviewees themselves. This information includes the interviewees’ attitudes, their biases, and their interests.
Verma and Beard (1987) suggest that this information might be of great significance to a research study. The validity of the information obtained is increased since interviews promote a positive climate of truthfulness and cooperation since the interviewer can put the interviewee at ease (Ary et al., 2002).
Lovell and Lawson (1970) confirm that there is a higher level of willingness among subjects to offer information in interviews than in questionnaires leading to greater validity when using this method.
In spite of these advantages, there are some significant disadvantages associated with semi-structured interviews. To begin with, this data collection method is costly and time-consuming (Nachmias & Nachmias, 1996; Sarantakos, 1998; Cohen et al., 2003).
The researcher has to plan and arrange the interviews carefully. Once the data has been obtained from the sources, it has to be transcribed before coding. All these steps take time and effort. The first step involves obtaining information to make audio recordings of the interview.
After the interview has been conducted, the data has to be transcribed. McQueen and Knussen (1999) note that the analysis of the qualitative data should begin as soon as the data collection has started.
After this step, the transcribed interviews have to be read thoroughly in order to obtain the information pertinent to the research. This is a tedious task, as the researcher has to go through each paragraph looking for new ideas and noting them down.