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Potential Limitations of In-depth Interviews in Social Research

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1505 words Published: 27th Sep 2021

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In the social research an interview/interviews are a frequently used mode of data collection. “The aim is for the interviewer to elicit from the interviewee or respondent all manner of information.” (Bryman, 2008:192). In-depth interviewing is more commonly known as a method that enables the researcher to explore the deeper structure of ideas presented by the participants. “Many sociologists use in-depth interviewing to explore a multitude of substantive and theoretical topics (e.g., Bell and Hartmann 2007; Quark 2007; Read and Oselin 2008).” (Healey-Etten, V., & Sharp, S.,2010: 157). There are many types of interviews that can be used to carry out research however, I am going to describe why it may be beneficial to use in depth interviews for a research project and the potential disadvantages and previous examples of in-depth interviews that have been used to carry out research.

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Sociologists commonly use this popular method because it enables further detailed exploration about people’s subjective experiences, meaning-making, accounting processes, and unspoken assumptions about life and the social world in general.”Two primary objectives of in-depth interviewing are exploration and verification” (Johnson, 2002). One reason why it would be useful to conduct an in-depth interview, would be to reduce error due to interviewer reliability. The aim of this concept is to keep error down to a minimum, as should error occur it would have an adverse effect on the validity of the measure. The validity would be compromised if there is a high possibility of error occurring. However, due to the benefit of standardisation in depth interviews are useful to clarify any potential confusion. For example, in a self-completion questionnaire the participants. However, with the help of an interviewer the ambiguity can be clarified and the responses given by the interviewee are more likely to be valid, based on the fact their answers where given under full understanding of the question. Interview control questions (ICQs) are in fact investigation questions aiming at both verification and exploration.

A study that has exemplified the use of in depth interviews, was reported by Ramji Hasmita that focused on exploring commonality and difference in in-depth interviewing: a case-study of researching British Asian women. This research focuses on the experience British South Asian women’s lives in London, and how a female British Asian researcher to explores this topic by investigating how and to what extent common social attributes are a result of influence. It examines these issues through a discussion of how the shared cultural identity of the researcher and the interviewees emerged as both a point of commonality and difference in the research process; with the researcher being ‘positioned’ in terms of both because of the interviewees’ agency in interpreting their cultural commonality. Issues regarding Indian culture and religion emerged as points on which interviewees exercised agency and interpreted the researcher’s cultural identity. This was the basis on which they claimed commonality or difference and this assessment consequently impacted on their interaction with the researcher. The article suggests that more attention needs to be given to how assumptions made by interviewees regarding the cultural identity of the researcher through their agency and interaction in the research process shapes interview dynamics. (Ramji, H.,2008)

Regardless of the differences between therapy and research interviews, and considering the similarities in approach and outcomes, I am suggesting the argument that participating in in depth interviews can be inherently therapeutic. Additionally, qualitative researchers must recognise the importance of this therapeutic possibility because it can and should affect participants’ reactions, interviewers’ approaches, and how researchers can make a difference in people’s lives. As well as clinical interviews, the social research interview context is a space for sharing stories, which can provide credible information for researchers and provide a platform for alleviation and healing. It has been recognised by several health practitioners and researchers that engaging in conversation can be liberating, as it encourages emotional release and can provide a sense of comfort at times. Sharing information and feeling building relationship by trying to understand one’s mindset can also raise self-awareness and perhaps even reform their perspectives on certain topics. This organization of thoughts can trigger new perspective and aid in promoting resolutions. The in-depth interviews are not aimed to act therapy, but it is therapeutic in that it offers a space for relaxation through sharing.

In 2013 Yvonne Kahl, Johannes Jungbauer published an article reporting qualitive research regarding, ‘Challenges and Coping Strategies of Children with Parents Affected by Schizophrenia: Results from an In-Depth Interview Study.’ The research consisted of thirty-four children undergoing in depth interviews to find out different forms of coping mechanisms they used to deal with their parents who were battling the mental health disorder, schizophrenia. The children who were being interviewed, expressed many obstacles in which they face daily, and in conclusion the report recognised through what was said by the interviewees that there is a desperate need for more professional support, to assist the children who are affected to discover more and appropriate forms of coping. (Kahl & Jungbauner, 2013). The reason I believe an in-depth interview was more useful in understanding the question being researched here is due to the sensitive nature of the Schizophrenia and the stigmatisation of mental health disorder. Through the in depth interviews the children conveyed many aspects of fear in relation to fear, frustration and stigmatisation as emotions they regularly feel concerning the relationship with their parents. As previously mentioned, in- depth interviews can be therapeutic and can offer a space for relaxation through sharing therefore would have been more useful as oppose to questionnaire, in enabling the interviewees to be as open as possible.

Of course, with any form of research comes limitations. Regarding in depth interviews, there are many ethical issues. Although interviews may naturally be therapeutic for participants, and offer rich data, this quality can pose challenges to interviewers. As researchers encourage sensitive disclosures, role confusion may occur (Dickson-Swift, James, Kippen, & Liamputton, 2006; Weiss, 1994). Participants could mistake the interview as therapy and, as such, the interviewer as a therapist. Researchers must carefully maintain boundaries to protect the researcher-participant relationship and ethical obligations to do no harm (Birch & Miller, 2000; Dickson-Swift et al., 2006; Haynes, 2006). Boundaries can be achieved through minimizing personal disclosure, debriefing (Dickson-Swift et al., 2006), recognizing distress signals (Kavanaugh & Ayres, 1998), drawing back when responses become negative (Haynes, 2006), and being direct about the research relationship. Because researchers are not trained counsellors, they might experience emotional vulnerability, guilt, fatigue, and burnout (Dickson-Swift et al., 2006). The researcher’s role is listener, learner, and observer, not counsellor or therapist. A list of local counselling resources should be available for participants to highlight this distinction.


Willis, G. B. (2005). Setting the stage for cognitive interviewing: first principles of questionnaire design. In Cognitive interviewing (pp. 12-33).: SAGE Publications Ltd doi: 10.4135/9781412983655.n2

Healey-Etten, V., & Sharp, S. (2010). Teaching Beginning Undergraduates How to Do an In-depth Interview: A Teaching Note with 12 Handy Tips. Teaching Sociology, 38(2), 157-165.

Free, C., Lee, R., & Ogden, J. (2002). Young Women’s Accounts Of Factors Influencing Their Use And Non-Use Of Emergency Contraception: In-Depth Interview Study. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 325(7377), 1393-1396. Retrieved from http://0-www.jstor.org.serlib0.essex.ac.uk/stable/25453157

Ramji, H. (2008). Exploring commonality and difference in in-depth interviewing: A case-study of researching British Asian women. British Journal of Sociology, 59(1), 99-116. doi:http://0-dx.doi.org.serlib0.essex.ac.uk/10.1111/j.1468-4446.2007.00184.x

Kahl, Y., & Jungbauer, J. (2014). Challenges and coping strategies of children with parents affected by schizophrenia: Results from an in-depth interview study. Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal, 31(2), 181-196. doi:10.1007/s10560-013-0316-2


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