Structured Interview | Definition, Guide & Examples
While structured interviews are often associated with job interviews, they are also common in marketing, social science, survey methodology, and other research fields.
Table of contents
- What is a structured interview?
- When to use a structured interview
- Advantages of structured interviews
- Disadvantages of structured interviews
- Structured interview questions
- How to conduct a structured interview
- How to analyze a structured interview
- Presenting your results
- Frequently asked questions about structured interviews
What is a structured interview?
Structured interviews are often closed-ended. They can be dichotomous, which means asking participants to answer “yes” or “no” to each question, or multiple-choice. While open-ended structured interviews do exist, they are less common.
Asking set questions in a set order allows you to easily compare responses between participants in a uniform context. This can help you see patterns and highlight areas for further research, and it can be a useful explanatory or exploratory research tool.
When to use a structured interview
Structured interviews are best used when:
- You already have a very clear understanding of your topic, so you possess a baseline for designing strong structured questions.
- You are constrained in terms of time or resources and need to analyze your data efficiently.
- Your research question depends on strong parity between participants, with environmental conditions held constant.
A structured interview is straightforward to conduct and analyze. Asking the same set of questions mitigates potential biases and leads to fewer ambiguities in analysis. It is an undertaking you can likely handle as an individual, provided you remain organized.
Differences between different types of interviews
Make sure to choose the type of interview that suits your research best. This table shows the most important differences between the four types.
|Structured interview||Semi-structured interview||Unstructured interview||Focus group|
|Fixed order of questions|
|Fixed number of questions|
|Option to ask additional questions|
Advantages of structured interviews
The fixed nature of structured interviews reduces context effects and other biases. Asking the same questions in the same order to all participants minimizes the risk of introducing bias via the order or nature of questions asked, or via any environmental factors.
Increased credibility, reliability and validity
Due to their carefully predetermined nature, structured interviews are thought to be more credible than other types of interviews. All participants are presented with the same (close-ended or multiple-choice) questions in the same order, which makes it easier to compare the answers. This contributes to their reliability and validity.
Simple, cost-effective and efficient
While similar to questionnaires and surveys, structured interviews introduce more nuance and richness to the topic being studied without representing too much more work for the interviewer. Relatedly, there is less preparation needed for the interviewee, so the process is also less time-consuming on their end.
Disadvantages of structured interviews
Formal in nature
The rigidity of structured interviews means that there is very little opportunity to build rapport between the interviewer and the participant. The perceived formality of structured interviews can cause participants to feel uncomfortable or nervous, which can affect their answers.
Once the questions are selected, they cannot be altered or removed without damaging the quality of the interview. Even if a question is poorly worded, superfluous, or unnecessary, it still has to be presented to all respondents.
Since most structured interviews are closed-ended, their scope is limited. Participants cannot go into much detail with their answers, and there is little room for nuance. If a participant doesn’t truly identify with any of the binary or multiple-choice answers, it can be difficult to know how much their answer reflects their true feelings.
Structured interview questions
It can be difficult to write structured interview questions that approximate exactly what you are seeking to measure. Here are a few tips for writing questions that contribute to high internal validity:
- Define exactly what you want to discover prior to drafting your questions. This will help you write questions that really zero in on participant responses.
- Avoid jargon, compound sentences, and complicated constructions.
- Be as clear and concise as possible, so that participants can answer your question immediately.
How to conduct a structured interview
Structured interviews are among the most straightforward research methods to conduct and analyze. Once you’ve determined that they’re the right fit for your research topic, you can proceed with the following steps.
Step 1: Set your goals and objectives
Start with brainstorming some guiding questions to help you conceptualize your research question, such as:
- What are you trying to learn or achieve from a structured interview?
- Why are you choosing a structured interview as opposed to a different type of interview, or another research method?
If you have satisfying reasoning for proceeding with a structured interview, you can move on to designing your questions.
Step 2: Design your questions
Pay special attention to the order and wording of your structured interview questions. Remember that in a structured interview they must remain the same. Stick to closed-ended or very simple open-ended questions.
Step 3: Assemble your participants
Depending on your topic, there are a few sampling methods you can use, such as:
- Voluntary response sampling: For example, posting a flyer on campus and finding participants based on responses
- Convenience sampling of those who are most readily accessible to you, such as fellow students at your university
- Stratified sampling of a particular age, race, ethnicity, gender identity, or other characteristic of interest to you
- Judgment sampling of a specific set of participants that you already know you want to include
Step 4: Decide on your medium
Determine whether you will be conducting your interviews in person or whether your interview will take pen-and-paper format. If conducted live, you need to decide if you prefer to talk with participants in person, over the phone, or via video conferencing.
Step 5: Conduct your interviews
As you conduct your interviews, be very careful that all conditions remain as constant as possible.
- Ask your questions in the same order, and try to moderate your tone of voice and any responses to participants as much as you can.
- Pay special attention to your body language (e.g., nodding, raising eyebrows), as this can bias responses.
How to analyze a structured interview
After you’re finished conducting your interviews, it’s time to analyze your results.
- Assign each of your participants a number or pseudonym for organizational purposes.
- Transcribe the recordings manually or with the help of transcription software.
- Conduct a content or thematic analysis to look for categories or patterns of responses. In most cases, it’s also possible to conduct a statistical analysis to test your hypotheses.
If you have audio-recorded your interviews, you will likely have to transcribe them prior to conducting your analysis. In some cases, your supervisor might ask you to add the transcriptions in the appendix of your paper.
First, you will have to decide whether to conduct verbatim transcription or intelligent verbatim transcription. Do pauses, laughter, or filler words like “umm” or “like” affect your analysis and research conclusions?
- If so, conduct verbatim transcription and include them.
- If not, conduct intelligent verbatim transcription, which excludes fillers and fixes any grammar issues, and is often easier to analyze.
The transcription process is a great opportunity for you to cleanse your data as well, spotting and resolving any inconsistencies or errors that come up as you listen.
Coding and analyzing structured interviews
Due to the closed-ended nature of many structured interviews, you will most likely be conducting content analysis, rather than thematic analysis.
- You quantify the categories you chose in the coding stage by counting the occurrence of the words, phrases, subjects or concepts you selected.
- After coding, you can organize and summarize the data using descriptive statistics.
- Next, inferential statistics allows you to come to conclusions about your hypotheses and make predictions for future research.
When conducting content analysis, you can take an inductive or a deductive approach. With an inductive approach, you allow the data to determine your themes. A deductive approach is the opposite, and involves investigating whether your data confirm preconceived themes or ideas.
Content analysis has a systematic procedure that can easily be replicated, yielding high reliability to your results. However, keep in mind that while this approach reduces bias, it doesn’t eliminate it. Be vigilant about remaining objective here, even if your analysis does not confirm your hypotheses.
Presenting your results
After your data analysis, the next step is to combine your findings into a research paper.
- Your methodology section describes how you collected the data (in this case, describing your structured interview process) and explains how you justify or conceptualize your analysis.
- Your discussion and results sections usually address each of your coded categories, describing each in turn, as well as how often they occurred.
If you conducted inferential statistics in addition to descriptive statistics, you would generally report the test statistic, p-value, and effect size in your results section. These values explain whether your results justify rejecting your null hypothesis and whether the result is practically significant.
You can then conclude with the main takeaways and avenues for further research.
Example of interview methodology for a research paper
Let’s say you are interested in healthcare on your campus. You attend a large public institution with a lot of international students, and you think there may be a difference in perceptions based on country of origin.
Specifically, you hypothesize that students coming from countries with single-payer or socialized healthcare will find US options less satisfying.
There is a large body of research available on this topic, so you decide to conduct structured interviews of your peers to see if there’s a difference between international students and local students.
You are a member of a large campus club that brings together international students and local students, and you send a message to the club to ask for volunteers.
Here are some questions you could ask:
- Do you find healthcare options on campus to be: excellent; good; fair; average; poor?
- Does your home country have socialized healthcare? Yes/No
- Are you on the campus healthcare plan? Yes/No
- Have you ever worried about your health insurance? Yes/No
- Have you ever had a serious health condition that insurance did not cover? Yes/No
- Have you ever been surprised or shocked by a medical bill? Yes/No
After conducting your interviews and transcribing your data, you can then conduct content analysis, coding responses into different categories. Since you began your research with the theory that international students may find US healthcare lacking, you would use the deductive approach to see if your hypotheses seem to hold true.
Frequently asked questions about structured interviews
- When should you use a structured interview?
A structured interview is a data collection method that relies on asking questions in a set order to collect data on a topic. They are often quantitative in nature. Structured interviews are best used when:
- You already have a very clear understanding of your topic. Perhaps significant research has already been conducted, or you have done some prior research yourself, but you already possess a baseline for designing strong structured questions.
- You are constrained in terms of time or resources and need to analyze your data quickly and efficiently.
- Your research question depends on strong parity between participants, with environmental conditions held constant.
- What are the 4 main types of interviews?
The four most common types of interviews are:
- Structured interviews: The questions are predetermined in both topic and order.
- Semi-structured interviews: A few questions are predetermined, but other questions aren’t planned.
- Unstructured interviews: None of the questions are predetermined.
- Focus group interviews: The questions are presented to a group instead of one individual.
- What is an interviewer effect?
The interviewer effect is a type of bias that emerges when a characteristic of an interviewer (race, age, gender identity, etc.) influences the responses given by the interviewee.
There is a risk of an interviewer effect in all types of interviews, but it can be mitigated by writing really high-quality interview questions.