Structured and unstructured interviews are common methods of gathering data in research. While structured interviews are mostly used in quantitative observation, an unstructured interview is usually applied to qualitative data collection because it pays attention to describing the research subjects. 

Apart from the key difference highlighted above, there are other things a researcher must know about the natures of structured and unstructured interviews. Hence, it is important for the interviewer to understand the many differences between a structured interview and an unstructured interview. 

What is a Structured Interview?

A structured interview is a type of interview in which the researcher asks a set of premeditated questions in order to gather information about the research subjects. It is also known as a standardized interview or a researcher-administered interview, and it aims at investigating research variables using the same set of questions. 

Typically, structured interviews are used to collect information with regards to the quantity or numerical value of the research subjects. It outlines events, behaviors, procedures, and guidelines for conducting the interview and recording the information collected to serve as the research data. 

Characteristics of a Structured Interview

  1. A structured interview utilizes a standardized process of inquiry. 
  2. It is a quantitative method of observation.
  3. A structured interview is easy to replicate.
  4. This type of interview is sequential in nature. 

structured-interview

What is an Unstructured Interview? 

An unstructured interview is a type of interview that does not make use of a set of standardized questions. Here, the interviewer does not generate any specific set of standardized questions for research, rather he or she asks different questions in line with the context and purpose of the systematic investigation.

Typically, an unstructured interview relies on spontaneity and follow-up questioning in order to gather detailed information from the research subject. In many ways, this type of interview can be viewed as an informal, everyday conversation because of its extremely colloquial style. 

Characteristics of an Unstructured Interview

  1. An unstructured interview is flexible in nature.
  2. It relies on spontaneity in its method of inquiry.
  3. An unstructured interview is a method of qualitative observation. 
  4. It is descriptive in nature. 

Differences Between Structured and Unstructured Interview

  • Definition 

A structured interview is a type of interview that relies on a set of standardized and premeditated questions in order to gather information. On the other hand, an unstructured interview is a type of interview that does not rely on a set of premeditated questions in its data-gathering process. 

In an unstructured interview, the researcher does not prepare a set of pre-planned interview questions while in a structured interview, the researcher depends on an interview sequence. A structured interview is a directive in nature while an unstructured interview is non-directive in nature. 

  • Sequence

In a structured interview, the researcher follows an interview sequence comprising standardized questions while in an unstructured interview, the researcher does not create any interview sequence. An interview sequence consists of standardized questions for conducting an interview arranged in the order of use.

The interviewer in a structured interview follows the sequence as he or she makes inquiries about the research subject. In an unstructured interview, the researcher does not follow any sequence but relies on spontaneity to direct the course of the conversation. 

  • Question Types

A structured interview makes use of close-ended questions, predominantly while an unstructured interview makes use of open-ended questions, predominantly. Close-ended questions allow the interviewer to limit the interviewee to a range of possible responses in line with the research context. 

On the other hand, open-ended questions do not restrict the respondent to pre-conceived options. Rather, it gives the respondent the opportunity to explore the questions from multiple perspectives and this allows the interviewer to gather a variety of information about the research subject. 

  • Question Samples

Examples of questions asked in an unstructured interview include the following:

  1. What do you enjoy most about our product?
  2. What do you not like about our service delivery?
  3. How do you think we can improve our service delivery?
  4. Why do you use our product? 
  5. What specific needs does our product meet for you? 

Examples of questions asked in a structured interview include:

  1. How often do you use our product?
  2. Weekly
  3. Bi-monthly
  4. Yearly
  5. Do you enjoy using our product?
  6. Yes
  7. No
  8. How likely are you to recommend our services?
  9. Very likely
  10. Somewhat likely
  11. Highly Unlikely

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  • Uses

An unstructured interview is mostly used to collect data in qualitative research while a structured interview is mostly used to collect data in quantitative research. Qualitative observation is used to gather descriptive and in-depth information about a research subject while quantitative observation is used to collect measurable data. 

In other words, an unstructured interview is more suitable for a research process that aims at gathering descriptive data. On the other hand, a structured interview is more suitable for gathering data that can be quantified in terms of numerical values. 

  • Advantages of Structured Interview

Data gathered through a structured interview is more objective and easier to analyze unlike the data gathered via an unstructured interview. This is because a structured interview requires the respondents to provide brief and relevant answers to the questions, unlike an unstructured interview. 

Also, a structured interview can be used to gather information from a large data sample of the target population, unlike an unstructured interview. Because of the standardization of a structured interview, the interview process is easier unlike that of an unstructured interview. 

  • Disadvantages of Structured Interview

The data gathered via a structured interview lacks depth and detail unlike the information gathered through an unstructured interview. This is because a structured interview restricts the interviewee to a set of questions and this prevents him or her from providing additional information that would prove useful in the research. 

A structured interview is a less valid means of data collection while an unstructured interview is a more valid means of data collection. In a structured interview, the researcher is not allowed to deviate from the line of questioning regardless of any developments but this is allowed in an unstructured interview. 

  • Advantages of Unstructured Interviews

An unstructured interview can be used to gather information on complex issues, unlike a structured interview. This is because an unstructured interview adopts a conversational approach that creates a rapport between the researcher and the interviewee which allows the later to reveal important information. 

unstructured-interview-camcorder

An unstructured interview is also more flexible and more comfortable than a structured interview. In an unstructured interview, the researcher has the opportunity to formulate new questions and research hypotheses based on new information provided, unlike a structured interview that follows a strict sequence. 

  • Disadvantages of Unstructured Interviews 

An unstructured interview is more time-consuming when compared to a structured interview. Since it is not limited to particular questions or a sequence, conducting an unstructured interview takes up more time and more resources than a structured interview that follows a sequence. 

An unstructured interview generates large amounts of data which is difficult to categorize and analyse, unlike a structured interview that collects the most relevant responses. Since it is not standardized, an unstructured interview is considered non-reliable and highly subjective, unlike a structured interview. 

  • Tools

Audio recorders, telephones, and camcorders are tools used for conducting an unstructured interview while surveys and questionnaires are tools used for conducting a structured interview. In a structured interview, the interviewer can create a survey using the interview sequence and administer this survey to research groups in order to gather information. 

Because an unstructured interview is flexible, it usually involves having a one-on-one conversation with the research groups in order to gather valid information from them. However, a structured interview can be conducted either physically or through other methods as highlighted above.

  • Subjectivity

An unstructured is highly subjective in nature while a structured interview is objective in nature. In an unstructured interview, different parameters are used to evaluate research subjects and this affects the objectivity of the data gathered and research findings in the end.

In a structured interview, the research subjects are evaluated using the same set of standardized questions in the same sequence. This makes it a more objective data collection more than a structured interview, and it is extremely useful for gathering large amounts of data from a research group.  

  • Data Samples

Structured interviews examine large data samples while unstructured interviews examine limited data samples. As a result of its quantitative nature and use of an interview sequence, structured interviews can carry out systematic investigations into the nature of large sets of data. 

On the other hand, an unstructured interview works with small data samples because of its in-depth and detailed approach to systematic inquiry. An unstructured interview makes use of open-ended questions, predominantly, and this gives respondents the opportunity to fully communicate their thoughts and ideas on the research questions. 

  • Comparability

Structured interviews allow for data comparability while unstructured interviews do not allow for data comparability. This means that while it is easy for researchers to compare the data samples gathered from a structured interview, it is extremely difficult to do this with the information collected via an unstructured interview. 

This is because structured interview subjects the data set to the same parameters of inquiry, unlike an unstructured interview that develops research questions uniquely for each participant. This is why it is adopted for quantitative observation and analysis. 

Similarities Between Structured and Unstructured Interviews? 

Although there are a number of differences between structured and unstructured interviews, these two also have meeting points. Here are a few similarities between structured and unstructured interviews: 

  • Data collection

Both structured and unstructured interviews are methods of data collection and they are used by researchers to gather a variety of information about research groups and different research contexts. The ultimate aim of both structured and unstructured interviews is to gather relevant information that can help researchers arrive at objective outcomes. 

  • Participants

Both structured and unstructured interviews involve interacting with research subjects in order to gather information about a research context. However, structured and unstructured interviews adopt different tools and methods of inquiry into the nature and behaviors of research variables. 

  • Structured and unstructured interviews are both diagnostic in nature.
  • Bias

Structured and unstructured interviews are both susceptible to research bias. In structured interviews, bias results from restricting interviewees to options which forces them to choose an answer that may not represent his or her views

Bias can also result from the relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee in unstructured interviews. 

How to Conduct an Unstructured Interview

  • Avoid leading questions

The aim of an unstructured interview is to allow respondents to freely communicate their thoughts and opinions. This is why it is important for every interviewer to avoid asking leading questions that direct the research towards premeditated responses. 

The best way to ask the questions in an unstructured interview is to phrase your inquiries in a way that allows interviewees to communicate their feelings and views, freely. Leading questions often communicate implied meanings that can lead to survey response bias

Examples of leading questions include the following: 

  1. How useful has our product been to you?
  2. How impactful was the seminar on drug abuse? 

Examples of non-leading questions include:

  1. What do you feel about our product?
  2. What are your observations with regards to the drug abuse seminar? 
  • Probe beyond the surface

In order to gather insightful and in-depth information about a research subject, it is important for the interviewee to prove beyond the surface. This means asking a range of follow-up questions that reveal more information about an interviewee's thoughts and experiences. 

  • Explore inconsistencies

Sometimes, an interviewee's statements contradict their previous assertions or explanations. In such a situation, it is important for the interviewer to explore these apparent inconsistencies by asking follow-up questions that clarify a misunderstanding or provide new information.

  • Record your data

When taking and rewriting notes, ensure that you document the respondent's views and thoughts as accurately as possible. Focus on new words or pieces of information and, pay attention to subjects that seem unclear or confusing as very often, these phases provide valuable insights to understanding the thoughts of the interviewee.

How to Conduct Structured/Semi-Structured Interview with Formplus

You can use Formplus to conduct a structured or semi-structured interview. Formplus enables you to create online surveys and questionnaires which can be administered to interviewees in the form of a structured interview. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to conduct a structured interview using Formplus: 

Sign into Formplus

In the Formplus builder, you can easily create an online questionnaire for your structured interview by dragging and dropping preferred fields into your form. To access the Formplus builder, you will need to create an account on Formplus

Once you do this, sign in to your account and click on "Create Form " to begin. 

structured-interview-questionnaire


Edit Form Title

  • Click on the field provided to input your form title, for example, "ABC Structured Interview Questionnaire".

structured-interview-question-form


Edit Form 

  • Click on the edit button to edit the form.
  • Add Fields: Drag and drop preferred form fields into your form in the Formplus builder inputs column. There are several field input options for survey forms in the Formplus builder. 
  • Edit fields
  • Click on "Save"
  • Preview form. 

structured-interview-survey


Customize Form

Formplus allows you to add unique features to your structured interview questionnaire. You can personalize your questionnaire using various customization options in the builder. Here, you can add background images, your organization's logo, and other features. You can also change the display theme of your form. 

structured-interview-formplus


Share your Form Link with Respondents

Formplus offers multiple form sharing options which enables you to conduct your structured interview online by sharing your form link with interviewees. You can use the direct social media sharing buttons to share your form link to your organization's social media pages. 

You can also embed your questionnaire into your website so that form respondents can easily fill it out when they visit your webpage. Formplus allows you to send out email invitations to interviewees and to also share your form link as a QR code.  

structured-interview-form-builder


Conclusion

Both unstructured and structured interviews are used independently in research. While an unstructured interview allows you to collect descriptive information about a research subject, a structured interview allows you to collect quantitative research data, and this serves as the basis of further research. 

Structured interviews are easy to replicate because they make use of standardized questions arranged in a fixed interview sequence. On the other hand, unstructured interviews are spontaneous in nature and generate interview questions based on the responses provided by the research subjects. 

One-on-one conversations are the most common means of conducting an unstructured interview because of its reliance on spontaneous inquiry. On the other hand, a structured interview can be conducted through one-on-one interviews or through other methods like surveys and questionnaires. 

You can use Formplus to create and administer online surveys and questionnaires as part of a structured interview. Formplus offers multiple sharing options so that you can conveniently share your questionnaire with interviewees using different methods including email invitations and QR codes. Sign up for a free trial today


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  • on 12 min read

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