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Conducting Field Interviews

A guide meant for those enrolled in seated DEC300 courses and need to conduct field interviews for their research project.

What are field interviews?

Field interviews are a qualitative research method that involves gathering qualitative data from an individual or individuals in a particular topic.  They differ from regular interviews because they typically include open-ended questions where the interviewee can answer however they like.  They are meant to gain a broad perspective on the individual's thoughts and behaviors on a particular subject.  Field interviews are a popular research technique because they are a way to gather information from a primary source (someone directly related to the topic).  They are different from traditional research because they do not take place in a laboratory or other controlled environment.

Types of Field Interviews

There are different types of interviews that you can use for any research project (Fontana et al., 2007):

  • Structured interview: Where the interviewer asks all participants the same premade questions and they must select from a list of premade responses.  Open-ended questions are rarely used in this type of interview, but can be included when appropriate.  The interviewer controls the pace throughout the interview by using the questions as a script.
  • Unstructured interview: Interviews that do not follow a strict set of questions.  Rather, they ask the interviewee open-ended questions on a particular research topic.  The goal of the interview is to make it feel like an informal conversation, while the interviewer asks questions based on the interviewee's previous answers.  In some cases, there are no formal questions and it is treated like a discussion (Danelo, 2017).
  • Individual semi-structured interview: Where the interviewer goes into the interview with a prepared set of questions/topics, but isn't afraid to divert from the questions when it is appropriate.  This often depends on the participant's responses (Danelo, 2017).
  • Group: Where a single interviewer interviews more than one individual at a time, but the interviewer uses the same questions on all participants.  Participants get the opportunity to answer each question on their own.

Most field interviews typically take the individual semi-structured approach because it allows the interviewee to answer questions freely.  It also lets the interviewer adjust the conversation based on the participant's responses.  While the interview may be informal, it is important to record any key points or information that the participant provides.


Why conduct field interviews?

While interviews may not be the most appropriate research strategy in some disciplines, field interviews are significant for several reasons (Mosley, 2013):

  • Interviews allow you to interact directly with your research topic.
  • They let you analyze and assess the reason behind an individual's actions, beliefs, or attitudes.
  • Interviews provide a foundation for crafting theories, principles, and conclusions.
  • The provide research data that comes directly from a primary source.
  • They capture nonverbal communication that can contribute to the research data (spoken language).

View the Conducting Field Interviews tab to learn more about applying field interviews in research.