Research Methods

Interviews: structured and unstructured

Interviews are a widely used method in Sociology and we can think of them as existing along a continuum. At one end they can be structured, with a clear interview schedule containing all of the questions to be asked and their precise wording and order.
At the other end of the continuum are unstructured interviews, which lack set questions and is more of like an open conversation. Unstructured interviews especially require a great deal of skill as the interviewer needs to create a relaxing and rather informal setting whilst obtaining answers to the questions they are researching.
However, more social research sits somewhere between these two poles - very few interviews are either rigidly structured and set, or totally open and fluid.

Students could be encouraged to think about how chat shows on television can be seen as examples of structured interviews in some ways, yet unstructured in others.

Jonathan Ross interviews Thierry Henry (2 minute clip) See above

In small groups, the following points could be discussed before a spokesperson feeds back to the rest of the class:

  • What do you think Jonathan Ross did before the interview? In what ways is the interview structured? In what ways is it unstructured (e.g. picks up on Henry's mention of 'respect' and asks him to elaborate on this)

As an extension task, students could look at other TV chat show hosts and consider the extent to which their style is structured/unstructured. Draw a table to make a note of key points to consider.

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