2408 interviewing, structured, unstructured, and postmodern

the interviewers have been found to change the
wording of questions. Thirdly, the respondents:
there is an assumption that respondents will
answer truthfully and rationally and will not let
emotions or any personal agenda affect their


Focus group interviews are basically a qualitative
method; an interviewer/moderator assembles a
small group of respondents in a conference room
or similar setting in order to gather their collec
tive opinions of the subject under study. The
moderator directs the interaction among respon
dents and his or her approach can vary from
very structured to completely unstructured,
depending on the purpose of the interview.
Focus group interviewing originated in mar
ket research in order to collect consumers opi
nions of various products. Sociologists use
focus group interviewing for different pur
poses. Most common is to use the interview
as an exploratory tool to fine tune research
topics or to pretest survey research structured
questions. The interview can also be used for
triangulation purposes to support and validate
another method, either quantitative or qualita
tive. Finally, focus group interviews can be
used as the sole basis of data gathering, often
to elicit the respondents recall of an event they
all witnessed, such as a disaster or a celebration.
Focus group interviewers must possess skills
similar to those of individual interviewers.
Addressing a group, however, presents addi
tional problems. The interviewer must ensure
that all respondents are participating in the
process and no one is dominating the interac
tion; also, the interviewer should be aware of
the possibility of group think. Focus groups
are popular since they provide an alternative or
addition to both qualitative and quantitative
research methods and are relatively easy to
assemble and fairly inexpensive.


Unstructured interviewing, also called in depth
interviewing, is an open ended methodological
technique. The interviewer has a general idea
about the topics of research but does not use
any structured questions or formal approach to
interviewing. There is no effort to ask the same
questions of all respondents or to quantify the
responses. The focus of this type of interview
ing is to understand the way of life of the
respondents and the meaning they themselves
attribute to the events. We present three types
of unstructured interviewing: traditional, oral
history, and creative interviewing.
Traditional Interviewing

Traditional unstructured interviewing is often
used in conjunction with ethnographic field
work and follows the same techniques. The
interviewer has to access the setting of the group
being studied, whether that be a welfare office or
a massage parlor. Sometimes the study focuses
on no group per se, as when studying homeless
persons on the streets, and entree must be nego
tiated anew with every individual. Next, the
interviewer must make efforts to understand the
language and culture of the respondents. Cultural
anthropologists at times had to rely on inter
preters, with perhaps disastrous misunderstand
ing of the cultural mores (Freeman 1983).
Sociologists studying a subculture, such as
physicians, also need to gain understanding of
the language used. In addition, they must famil
iarize themselves with the cultural nuances of
the group, such as not to ride a British bike
while studying the Hells Angels (Thompson
1985). Locating an informant is the next move.
It is valuable to befriend a marginal member of
the group under study with whom the inter
viewer can check the veracity of information
being received by the others. Gaining trust and
establishing rapport are next; the respondents
must feel at ease and trust the interviewer or
they will freeze them out, withhold information,
or lie. Trust and rapport take time to achieve
and are easy to lose, just by a wrong decision.
Finally, the interviewer must find an inconspic
uous way to collect information, ranging from
debriefing oneself every night into a tape recor
der to surreptitiously writing fieldnotes on toilet
paper in a rest room.
This type of unstructured interviewing is
still somewhat formal in its step by step