Interviewing – a Way to Generate Qualitative Data
A Critical Analysis of Pre-crafted Interview Schedules
Generating data can be made for all kind of purposes and in several ways (Milena et al.: 2008), whereas the main focus lies on the distinction between quantitative and qualitative research (Gerson et al.: 2002). When it comes to research most people generally think of the more common, traditional and familiar quantitative research which includes methods such as questionnaires, the creation of theories and models or the accumulation of empirical data (Holliday: 2002). This paper deals with interviewing, more precisely with interview schedules, as a method of generating qualitative data within primary market research. The structure of the work is as follows: Starting up with a the theoretical foundation with regards to interviewing, its possibilities within qualitative research and its configuration possibilities in the first part, the second part deals with the analysis of a workshop held on the topic “Generating Qualitative Data: Interviewing” within the lecture “Introduction to Research Methods” in the MA course Intercultural Communication with International Business. Within the analysis of the interview schedule problems, difficulties and limits of working with pre-crafted, semi-structured interview schedules are being identified and pointed out. Although it is not common to write a paper in another but the neutral voice a voice change into the first person takes place due to the fact that this part of the paper (3 Practical Application within the Workshop “Generating Qualitative Date: Interviewing”) delves into the personal experience and therefore requires a more personalised style. Finally, the paper concludes with a short review of the difficulties occurring when using a pre-crafted semi-structured interview schedule.
2 Theoretical Foundations of Interviewing
Interviewing is a form of primary market research, “a data collection strategy used across many disciplines” (DiCicco-Bloom: 2006, p. 315) which itself can be divided into acquisition of information, subject matter and behavioural construct research (Jung: 2006). According to Holstein and Gubrium (1995) the original approach towards research interviews is the assumption that the interviewee acts as a passive vessel supplying responses to the interviewer’s questions. The fundamental task of market research is the coverage of current or prospective information demand, which is getting concretised by the posed decision problem of form, content and coverage (Jung: 2006). In 1997, Kadushin and Kadushin stated that interviews are social interactions which are usually arranged around queries asked by an interviewer to an interviewee. They can be classified as the most important methods of acquisition of information and “the most familiar strategies for collecting qualitative data” (DiCicco-Bloom et al.: 2006, p. 314) which can be carried out orally, by telephone or in written form. The variations of interviews are manifold and can be configured by combining the following criteria: unstructured (also called non-standardised or focused) / structured (also called standardised) / semi-structured interview (Fielding et al.: 2008); direct / indirect interviewing tactic; nonrecurring / recurring interview; single topic / omnibus survey and open / closed questions within the interview schedule (Jung: 2006).
Before designing the interview schedule the interviewer needs to decide which criteria he or she is planning to combine. Since the following, the third chapter deals with the analysis of an already designed interview schedule, this interview schedule will be used as an example in order to distinguish between the options.
This interview schedule can be classified as follows: It is a matter of a pre-crafted, semi-structured interview schedule on a single topic that consists of open questions and is held directly and only once; therefore it is a nonrecurring interview.
Pre-crafted interview schedules are being designed by a person other than the interviewer. The interviewer has not been involved in the development of the schedule and might see the schedule the first time when it comes to the actual interview which can turn into a real challenge as explained in the next chapter.
The differentiation whether the schedule involves a semi-structured, a structured or an unstructured is based on the content, the order and the wording. A semi-structured interview schedule contains crucial questions but additional questions on the part of the interviewer are allowed and the order is variable. In return, a structured interview schedule is a schedule that has a set content, order and even wording of the questions; across the board the interviewer, more precisely the creator of the interview schedule, “decides in advance exactly what constitutes the required data” (Smith et al.: 2007, p. 41).
An unstructured interview schedule, which is often used in capital goods-market research, only has a limit concerning the topic. If taken seriously there is no interview that can actually be considered as unstructured (DiCicco-Bloom et al.: 2006).
Single topic interview schedules concentrate on only one topic, whereas the omnibus survey with complex of themes of different clients deals. Due to methodical reasons omnibus surveys are used more often because the interview is more diversified and more interesting for the respondent (Hakim: 2003).
Within open questions there is no definite answer intended. In contrast to open questions stand the so-called closed questions which contain answer possibilities and are therefore easier to analyse and interpret since there are limited response options. Too open questions may lead to flying off on a tangent and it might be very challenging to guide the interviewee into the wished direction. Additionally, some interviewees are frightened of open questions with the effect that it might cost them quite an effort to actually say what their opinion is (Gillham: 2000). A weakness of open questions is the possibility of interviewees straying from the subject, whereas a weak point of close questions is that it might turn into a questionnaire while losing the quality aspect. The creator of the interview schedule does not stay with one type of question; a combination of both is possible. Usually interviewers make their interviewees fill out a questionnaire covering basic information such as gender, age, highest occupational level etc.
The direct interviewing tactic reveals the aim of the interview straight away, which according to Jung frequently leads to false statements. On the other hand, there is the indirect interviewing tactic which is psychologically structured in a way that the interviewee normally answers in the right way.
If an interview schedule is only used for one interviewee group within a certain time period, it is a non-recurring interview. However, some interviews are held more than once in order to see a change in someone’s opinion; these are called recurring interviews. This for example might be the case if it comes to interviews about guest satisfaction in a hotel; based on the results of the first interview hoteliers tend to introduce quality management which should lead to a higher level of guest satisfaction. In order to check whether the steps were successful or whether the guest satisfaction has grown the same interview schedule is used for the recurring interview. Basis for this so-called panels are unchanging, representative and selected groups.
Generally it is relatively difficult to design an efficient interview schedule; after having chosen the conceptual framework, a lot of aspects, such as possible answers on the side of the interviewee or the wording, also need to be taken into consideration.
3 Practical Application within the Workshop “Generating Qualitative Date: Interviewing”
During the workshop “Generating Qualitative Data: Interviewing” we gained experience on using a pre-crafted, semi-scheduled interview schedule dealing with the motivations and expectations of students undertaking Masters degrees in Communication and International Marketing (CIM) and in Intercultural Communication with International Business (ICIB) at one British university. (The full interview schedule can be found in the appendix)
The workshop structure was as follows: In the very beginning we were supposed to form our opinions concerning the interview scheduled which had been given to us the week before the analysis and testing out. The task which had been given to us was to take a closer look on the schedule while considering the structure, the content, the red thread, the style, the simplicity of application and the comprehensibility of the schedule. By analysing the interview schedule before actually using it, we found out that most students would have reduced the time spread utilised; whilst the creator of the interview schedule used a time spread starting with the graduation from school and lasting to the present, I would have preferred the span to be starting at an earlier stage, e.g. if the interviewees already had the intention of applying to one of the above mentioned courses or a similar one during their school days; or if the interviewees had already been interested in intercultural studies at an earlier stage of their life which might have been caused by travelling, moving to other countries in the youth or a multicultural background. Finding out information about the past helps to understand the context and motives a lot easier. Furthermore, we (the participants of the workshop) mainly were not satisfied with the structure of the schedule: since the purpose of the interview is to find out about the motivations and expectations of students undertaking a degree either in CIM or ICIB, future expectations should be considered. According to the definition an expectation is “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case” (Oxford Dictionary, 2010); therefore an outlook to the future, e.g. dealing with better career prospects, should not be missing. We also realised that some questions are kind of appearing more than once. This point of critique gets underlined by a closer look on questions 3, 6 and 7 which all deal with the reasons for undertaking the course.