Semi-structured interviews

From OER in Education

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Brief introduction to the purpose and role of individual interviews

Time: 20-30 minutes


To provide a brief overview of:

  • Semi-structured interviews: the purpose and role of interviews in social research
  • Different types of interviews (facilitators might wish to focus specifically on the reason why interviews are being undertaken in their project)



Begin by asking the participants to brainstorm the reasons they think that interviews are a good tool for data collection and list the points on a flip chart. The presentation on introduction to interviews handout provides some examples from participants in other workshops, which can be added to the list generated.

To make participants think more critically about interviews, you can ask them to think about difference between a research interview and an interrogation carried out by the police (another type of interview). Here issues of rapport, trust, purpose will come to the forefront.

Move on to discussing the different types of research interviews, highlighting that these are located on a continuum from a very structured to a completely unstructured interview focus. It is important to highlight the strengths of semi-structured interviews and what makes them a powerful method of data collection (especially for certain types of projects).

Designing a semi structured interview: “Our dental practices


  • To enable participants to engage in the process of constructing an interview schedule
  • To make participants aware of the various styles of questioning and their appropriate use


  • Flip charts


There are THREE tasks for this session which takes participants through making a topic guide to designing an interview schedule.

Making a topic guide

Topic guide

Time: 25-35 minutes

Introduce the topic of dental health and set the scenario for the whole group.

The scenario: We have just received a one million dollar grant for the country’s Ministry of Health to investigate people’s dental practices and their perceptions of dental health so as to improve the dental health in the country. We, as a team, need to design an interview schedule and conduct interviews.

In order to construct an interview schedule, the participants must initially focus on designing a topic guide. Ask participants to think of topic areas that would be important to explore in order to achieve the aim of this research.

Invite suggestions about areas that need to be explored and note these on a flip chart.

Review the suggestions from the participants in light of the topics that have been identified in the examples provided in the facilitator’s notes. Discuss the points that have been overlooked by the participants and incorporate them into the discussions with the group.

Then put the topics in order on a list with numbered items and discuss the order of the topics (general to specific or vice versa – controversial or sensitive topics)

Here is an example of a topic guide produced through a group discussion handout. You may wish to produce this as a handout.

Different types of questions and the use of prompts and probes

Time: 30-40 minutes


Begin by looking at the topic guide and thinking about what sort of interview you want to achieve. Think about the different types of questions. Briefly introduce the different types of questions that can be asked in an interview.

  • Introducing questions: please tell me about when your interest in X began? Have you ever…?
  • Follow up questions: could you say more about…?
  • Specifying questions: how did X react to what you said? What did you do after that?
  • Direct questions: do you find it easy to follow lessons in the classroom?
  • Interpreting questions: do you mean that your leadership role in the school has changed?
  • Silence
  • Ranking/priority
  • Some say…do you agree
  • Association (3 words)
  • Closed
  • Open
  • Double barrelled (often used, but should be avoided)

Additionally, using the handout on 'Questions to be avoided handout' which has been provided as a framework, discuss with the participants the kind of questions which should be avoided in an interview. This can be done in a vibrant and engaging manner by involving the whole group in brainstorming such questions.

The handout for prompts and probes handout can be used to stimulate discussion on their function and importance in interviews

Designing interview questions

Designing a schedule

Time: 35-45 minutes


Ask participants to work in small groups to think about types of questions that they can construct based on the topics identified. Discussions might involve:

  • Are there any questions that could be useful opening questions?
  • Are there any questions that require sharing sensitive information and hence might be useful to place later in the schedule?
  • What kind of questions would be useful to gather the kind of information that we want? (Open ended, closed ended)
  • What prompts or probes might be appropriate and useful?

Bring the groups together and ask them to present their schedule to the whole group. Invite questions and comments. Encourage participants to recognise that in a semi-structured interview the schedule is a guide and hence there is a great degree of flexibility. The appropriate use of prompts and probes is therefore very important. You can map out the process of constructing an interview schedule on a flip chart to help participants recognise the process. The interview guide provided in Activity sheet 1 handout is an example of some of the questions that might be framed by the participants.

Here is a figural representation handout of how an interview guide is generated, piloted, adapted and then used in the field. This can be a useful way of summing up the process for the participants.

Critiquing interview skills

Time: 20-30 minutes



Introduce the clip, and ask the participants to view the DVD clip. Then ask the participants to rate the interview on a scale of 1- 10 (with 10 being excellent). Once these ratings have been collected ask the participants to list all the positives (which is much more difficult in this example) and then highlight the shortcomings.

Discuss with the participants strategies which could have helped improve the interview. The handout 'Good and bad listening handout' can be used during this discussion.

The experience of “doing” and “being” interviewed

Doing and being interviewed

Time: 90 minutes to 2 hours


  • To give participants opportunity to practise their interviewing skills
  • To provide them with an opportunity to reflect on the process and experience of being interviewed
  • Provide opportunity to critical evaluate the components of a successful interview



Introduce the topic, its aims and objectives. Ask participants to work in pairs to take turns in interviewing their partner, using a give interview schedule, and then be interviewed themselves by the other person.

Provide participants with a copy of the interview schedule and ask them to consider the following:

  • How will you introduce yourself?
  • How will you conduct it?
  • What do you wish to achieve?

Ask participants to spend 30 minutes on the interview. Each participant must go through the experience of being an interviewer and of being an interviewee.

Bring everyone back to the group and facilitate a discussion (for about 20-25 minutes) on the following:

  • What is it like to be an interviewer?
  • What is it like to be interviewed?

Some alternative arrangements for this activity:

  1. One of the pairs engaged in the task can be video recorded (after obtaining their permission). This can be used for the debriefing session.
  2. With another pair you can set up an interview situation which the rest of the group watches 2 participants being interviewed. One of the participants (partner A) in the pair is (in confidence) instructed NOT to listen to the other (partner B), and to make it clear that s/he is not listening and not interested, by using any non-verbal cues (such as yawning, fidgeting, looking away etc). At the end of the exercise, discuss with the group the following points-
  • What did it feel like to partner B, not listening to A?
  • How did the A react?
  • How did B feel about the reaction?
  • What did it feel like to be A, and not to be listened to?

After any of these activities, ask participants to discuss:

  • What did you feel about undertaking this task?
  • Do you feel the interview was “successful”?
  • If yes, why? If not, why not?
  • What did you learn about yourself (as an interviewer)?
  • What were your skills that you found useful?

Cc-by-nc-sa-narrow.png Singal, N., and Jeffery, R. (2008). Qualitative Research Skills Workshop: A Facilitator's Reference Manual,, Cambridge: RECOUP (Research Consortium on Educational Outcomes and Poverty, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. (original page)