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Semi-structured interviews | Analysis

An exploratory use of semi-structured interviews


This essay accounts my understandings of interview as a qualitative research method and the experience of the exploratory use of it. Considering the broad research area of my PhD research, learning and examination, the key knowledge I am going to show you will be learners' own perceptions of the learning. Some data could oftimes be excavated from the products with their learning, such as learning logs, workbooks, or educators' feedbacks, that indicate their experiences and evaluations of these learn. If the info are inadequate, however, I have to carried out interviews to assemble the data needed. Because of this, I decided semi-structured interview as the technique I would try out for this project.

The usability of semi-structured interviews

There are many types of interviews which can be differentiated by how much the interviews are structured and just how many participants are involved in one interview (Fontana & Frey, 2000; Punch, 2005). Although interviews are in essence "asking questions and receiving answers" using the media of language, different kinds of interview derive from different assumptions (Punch, 2005, p. 169). Mason (2002, pp. 63-66) highlights that the choice of semi-structured interviews is most likely an indicator to the following beliefs and reasons:

  1. People's understandings, feelings, perceptions and other interior thoughts as well as the connections with other people are elements of the social certainty.
  2. This simple fact could be exposed by representations and interpretations through language.
  3. What has been unveiled is situational knowledge which is more likely to be reconstructed under it's scheduled framework. In appropriate design, the required framework could be brought in to the interview conversations.
  4. Qualitative interviews do not try to standardise but to achieve more in conditions of "depth, nuance, complexness, and roundedness" of what is to be known.
  5. Interviewing is a "process of data era" and the interviewer takes on an "dynamic and reflexive" role in it.
  6. Interviewees should have more handles and freedoms throughout the interview interactions.

Taking Mason's view, if a study shares part or every one of the above descriptions, it could find appropriate to hire semi-structured interviews as a data generation method. The exploratory inquiry I've carried out is exactly one of the cases.

Conducting the interview

After hearing me discussing my teaching activities in and point of view on Taiwanese academic institutions, a British fellow university student, George (name altered) said he thinks that there must be different types of universities. This response kindled my interest because he was the third United kingdom people who concluded our conversation in such idea that quickly transcends the dichotomy of good or bad. This seldom happened while I was concerning in similar interactions in Taiwan. I speculate how his belief on education was produced. So I invited him to participant my interview, and he arranged.

The topics and the participants

I decided to go with this theme and this individuals to interview predicated on a pragmatic concern. You will discover limited people ideally open to be interviewed by me and there are also a few themes related to my research, but it will be a significant inquiry only when these people has something to say about some of those themes. When they are matched, the interview is more likely to be made exciting to the participant and, thus, will be more moral, too (Mason, 2002). My invites of interview have been refused twice until I fortunately identified the existing participant matched with the current theme.

Questions for the interview

I then made a plan of interviewing consisting with three parts. At the beginning, I would remind George in our previous discussion by recapitulating it. After confirming that he remembered it, too, I would raise my first question: what does you mean exactly by "I really believe there must be different sorts of institutions" in our previous chat? I expected this question to recreate the context of the previous conversation, and clarify his own interpretation of this expression.

Secondly, I would explain that the main element question of this interview is "how will you think this belief was form?" And I'd ask further questions regarding to George's responses explore more deeply before answer satisfies me or noting a fragrance of George's having nothing at all or not ready to travel further upon this topic.

Finally, I would request him to touch upon one the Summerhill University, as well concerning estimate how many British talk about similar values with him by his own perception. I expected his commenting using one of the very most acute cases of schooling in Great britain and self-positioning amongst others may help me revealing more of his position of educational beliefs.


I have also considered the strategy used to track record the interview. The decision of recording method was subject to both the availability of equipment and the purpose which the interview would be analysed for.

Considering that the interviewee would be reflecting on his comment on my previous discussion from the aspects affected by my questions, the content of the interview dialog may possibly not are present yet and I'd be involved along the way of its generation. The value I hold prior to the interview would constrain my aspect to perceive the chat and. Therefore, I need the spoken words and their sequences in the dialogue to be documented independently from my judgement.

I thought a words recorder would do the job well. Voice tracking, like other tracking method, could only partly record the interview (Mason, 2002; Silverman, 2001), nevertheless, the speech record could be replayed as much times as I need and it also keeps the initial sequences of chat which set each single word into the framework (Silverman, 2001). That would allow me to analyse the conversation with perspectives that I was hardly to acquire while interviewing.


The interview was occurred in the ground floor at 35 Berkeley Squire with espresso and goodies during lunchtime and lasted about 30 minutes.

After some small talk, a typical start of interviewing (Bogdan & Biklen, 2003), I turned on the words recorder, shifted the topic to the conversation we had experienced and asked him to clarify more in what he designed by "I believe there should be different types of academic institutions?"

His answers are firstly that "no child is the same. . . . . . some child[ren] can do better in one sort of colleges" and secondly that "if you got lots of schools, you got tons of experiments. . . assuming you can compare them then you can get some good interesting findings. . . . In the united kingdom we have lots of different schools within our education, which difference will never be necessarily a poor thing, that may be a very important thing. "

Then, after i asked about how his opinion was created? He give me an over-all, rational description of the benefits of having numerous kinds of college. This though provided a deeper explain of his thought but nonetheless not sufficed what I was seeking for, therefore i asked him in another way that "in what era you started out to see education in this way?"

Instead of answering my question, George pondered whether I wanted to place his thoughts in the personal framework. After my affirmation, he then continued to share with me that he has adopted his own way since "quite early age". He thought we would educate, which most graduate and also his family won't considered as a good job, in the united kingdom and soon visited teach in a producing country.

How early would you suggest by "quite early on age group?" I asked.

"Probably. . . . . . type of I went to secondary university, " he said, "it's your education environment stimulates sorts of ways of thinking. . . . "

Are there any one else advised you relating to this sort of ideas? I implemented.

"I got in a boarding college and we'd what we call house grasp. . . . . . I've quite lot of connection with this person, he. . . [informed us] not to accept the actual state or other people said [without questions]. . . [this has ] the impact on me and other people. . . ]" he responded.

Since he stated the boarding school, I then leap and have him about his ideas on Summerhill university which was in the 3rd part of my original plan.

Though he made it clear that " I am not saying that Summerhill should be closed down or any thing like that and. . . . . . I've not gone to the Summerhill school so I can't touch upon it", he preserved that "I believe children need to be systematically taught. . . . . . [if] children just be left too do what they want to do. . . for children who've certain personality that might be generally quite good thing, for other children it could be absolutely devastation. . . there is kind of children need quite lot of composition. "

I have sensed that George was making the judgement based on some tacit value that was slightly different from the articulated values. This added more tense into our conversation and made it more meaningful to me. So I directed this difference out and distributed my experience of similar conversations in Taiwan.

Responding to my comment, George elevated a new theme. Despite many expanding countries, probably including Taiwan, blindly replicate the european education into theirs, there must be the right in theirs that worth the european educations to learn. We talked about this topic for a while ( that was very interesting, too) then I ask him the final question about his estimation of just how many British share similar views with him.

Experience of the interview

My question has been clarified satisfactorily by this interview generally in most amount, and there are a number of things I can study from it. My experiences might be organised into the following two aspects.


Carefully preparations in advance are helpful and essential. I found that to acquaint my home with the theme, including the plan of requesting questions, the relevant situations such as the Summerhill school and my encounters in Taiwan, have indeed facilitated the management of the dialogue to require the participants whenever you can but still keep it targeted. Voice recorder also have to be tested beforehand. I came across my voice recorder set in a wrong method which ruined the first 10 minutes of my taking and I were required to interrupt to discussion and corrected it.

Interviewing as a conversation

Semi-structured interviews are not merely data collection tools but data era occurrences. I assumed that my experience in Taiwan as well as perhaps my attitude toward these activities triggered our discussion on copying education from other countries. EASILY did not talk about these experiences, I would probably get different interview data.

Apart from the interviewer, the interviewee has his own intention in the interview dialog. George wished to know very well what these questions for (thus he verified my research framework before answering) and he also has assumptions about how precisely I would interpret his words (thus he taken care of his scepticism above the uncritical appreciation of traditional western education).

In this aspect, I would consent what Bogdan and Biklen (2003) suggest on an effective and comfortable method of do interviewing: make clear to the interviewee all necessary data about myself and my inquiry like we may do to an expert. This will help the understanding to others of both participants, which is the centre part of interviews. and give the interviewee more control over how his view was realized, which could be observed clearly in my own case.


From the exploratory interview and several interview related chapters (Bogdan & Biklen, 2003; Fontana & Frey, 2000; Mason, 2002; Punch, 2005; Silverman, 2001), I came across semi-structured interviews as a qualitative research method is good at

a) uncovering "people's knowledge, views, understandings, interpretations, [and] experiences" (Mason, 2002, p. 63), especially their situational aspects;

b) offering interviewees opportunities to positively participate in and have some control over the interviews.

However, when including interviews, it is worth being cautious that

a) the power (or other sorts of) marriage(s) between interviewer and interviewee have to be counted as part of the context that your interviews has been occur, otherwise, it might turn up with unexpected or even distorted result;

b) someone to one interviewing has some but limited capacity to make a desirable context, specifically, in researches looking at people's relationships or how people respond in social context, where group interviewing might be a more powerful way.

c) interviewees might just say what they would like to tell us somewhat than what we intention to learn;

d) the represent-ability of any truth might be constrain by the ability of language of both interviewers and interviewees and, when looking at those earlier things, influenced by the correctness of interviewees' storage area. The complexity of the connection between terminology and reality is itself also an issue needs further inspections.

e) approach to interview has little validity over people's behaviour which can more correctly be compiled by observations or document analyses.


Bogdan, R. C. , & Biklen, S. K. (2003). Qualitative research for education: An launch to ideas and methods. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, Inc.

Fontana, A. , & Frey, J. H. (2000). The interview: From structured questions to negotiated text message. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds. ), Handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed. , pp. 645-672).

Mason, J. (2002). Qualitative researching. London: Sage.

Punch, K. (2005). Introduction to social research: Quantitative and qualitative techniques. London: Sage.

Silverman, D. (2001). Interpreting qualitative data: methods for analysing talk, wording and conversation. London: Sage.

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