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Fuel Cycle Blog: A Quick Guide to Semi-Structured Interviews

A Quick Guide to Semi-Structured Interviews

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Market research is not always a cut and dry process. In other words, you may want to gather telling customer data to inform business decisions, but you may not know what questions to ask on a survey or in a structured interview.

And, that’s okay. There are market research methods (e.g., semi-structured/qualitative interviews) that help you do the leg work before creating a structured survey or before engaging in quantitative and in-depth interviews.

With the help of a semi-structured interview, respondents can express their views openly, you can learn about issues your stakeholders have, and you can gather the information you need to propel your agile market research project forward.

Here is a quick guide to help you get the most out of your next semi-structured interview.

When to use a semi-structured interview

A semi-structured interview falls somewhere between a fully structured survey and an unstructured, casual conversation.

It’s best to use a semi-structured interview under the following circumstances:

  • You don’t know exactly what questions to ask on a survey and need more insight to understand stakeholder viewpoints.
  • You have more than one opportunity to talk interview a participant.
  • You have an idea of some questions you want to ask, but want to empower participants to take it in another direction if necessary.
  • You want to understand the topic at hand in a new light.

A semi-structured interview is open, flexible, and will help you gather the right information to help you fine-tune your agile market research strategy.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a semi-structured interview?

Now that you know when to use a semi-structured interview, let’s talk about some of the advantages and limitations of this method.

Advantages of semi-structured interviews

The advantages of a semi-structured interview include the following:

  • Interviewers can prepare questions beforehand to help guide the conversation and keep respondents on topic.
  • Allows for open-ended responses from participants for more in-depth information.
  • Encourages two-way communication.
  • Provides an opportunity so that interviewers can learn answers to questions and the reasons behind the answers.
  • Allows respondents time to open up about sensitive issues.
  • Provides qualitative data to compare to previous and future data.

While semi-structured interviews are a great way to delve deeper into issues, this type of interview methodology is not without its limitations.

Disadvantages of semi-structured interviews

Some disadvantages to semi-structured interviews include:

  • It’s time-consuming to sit down with respondents and conduct an open-ended interview.
  • It requires extensive resources.
  • It can be challenging to find an interviewer with the right amount of training to conduct the interview properly.
  • You need to interview enough people to draw conclusions and make comparisons.
  • It’s possible to write leading questions, and that could bias the interview.

How to prepare for and conduct a semi-structured interview?

Planning and preparing for a semi-structured interview takes a lot of practice, expertise, and skill. You don’t want to lead the conversation in one way or another, but you also don’t want the interviewee to clam up and not feel comfortable answering any questions. Here is an approach you can take that will help you plan for, and carry out a semi-structured interview.

1. Prepare for the interview. Write down what information you want to obtain. You can do this by reviewing past observations and identifying the gaps. Ask yourself what areas of the topic you need your respondents to elaborate on.

2. Write a guide. Once you have an idea of what questions you need to be answered, write a guide that includes all the questions. Remember this is not a formal interview, so you don’t have to stick to the guide rigidly. It’s just there to help remind you what you want to talk about.

3. Introduce yourself and build a rapport. Once the interviewee joins you, introduce yourself, get comfortable with one another, and explain the purpose of the interview. This includes presenting topics or themes you will cover during the interview.

4. Start with the simple questions and move to the complex questions. The best way to move through an interview is to start with the simple questions and then move to the more complex questions.

5. Be mindful of your questions. Asking the right types of questions is vital to the success of your interview. Make sure your questions are open-ended and avoid leading questions. Be sensitive if you’re asking any probing questions.

6. Know when to end the interview. No interview should last longer than 45 minutes to 1 hour, but that doesn’t mean you have to interview someone for that long. Whenever you feel like you have detailed answers to your questions, feel free to end the interview.

7. Write down your impressions. Right after you finish the interview, write down your impressions and insights.

8. Record the interview. You won’t remember everything from your interview, so make sure you record it.

Semi-structured interviews are among the most challenging types of interviews to conduct. You don’t have a set list of questions you must ask and get answers to. Instead, you have a guide and must lead the respondent through the interview. You also have to develop the skills required to ask the right types of questions and remain sensitive.

How do you analyze the findings?

An essential part of the research process is analyzing the results of your interviews. It can be difficult to analyze qualitative data, but here are five steps to follow that will keep you on track.

1. Organize your responses. Develop a system for organizing your data as you go. This includes developing a collection and management process, allocating unique identifiers to respondents, developing codes to categorize responses, and writing notes.

2. Identify recurring themes. Once you have transcribed the interviews, review, and code the data to show recurring themes. This process helps you identify vital information and discard irrelevant information.

3. Enter responses. Once you have a system developed and have sorted through your data, enter the codes into your data collection template.

4. Analyze patterns. Statistical analysis will help you identify patterns in the data. These patterns will help you formulate survey questions for future use.

5. Present your findings. The last step is to present your findings to your team. Determine what the results mean for your team and market research project and how you will use the data to move forward.

Wrap Up

There are many different types of interviews in qualitative research, including a semi-structured interview. A semi-structured interview will help you get to know your respondents and stakeholders better in order to develop better interview questions and survey questions for future research.

Remember, research interviewing, coding, and analysis don’t have to be complicated. For more information on tools that simplify the process, visit Fuel Cycle today.

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