Conducting an unstructured interview is one of the common ways of collecting information about research variables and their behaviors. This is a popular method adopted in qualitative observation where the researcher needs to gather useful data, first-hand, in order to understand the habits of the target audience. 

As a researcher, it is necessary to understand what an unstructured interview is, how it is carried out and more importantly, the situations that demand this method of data collection. You can use Formplus to conduct an unstructured interview online and analyze responses. 

What is an Unstructured Interview? 

An unstructured interview is a type of interview that is non-directive in nature. Here, the interviewer does not rely on a set of standardized questions but adopts spontaneity when gathering relevant information from the respondent in line with the purpose of the interview. 

In some way, an unstructured interview is similar to an everyday conversation because of it’s informal and free-flowing nature. Unstructured interviews can be used in a variety of fields especially sociology and it is also adopted for market research and recruitment processes. 

Unstructured interviews adopt a feedback mechanism to direct the course of the conversation in line with the research. The researcher develops new questions based on the responses provided by the interviewee hence, he or she can gather more in-depth and reliable information about the research subject. 

Types of Unstructured Interviews 

There are 3 major types of unstructured interviews. These are oral history, creative interview, and post-modern interview. These will be explained below. 

  • Oral History

Oral history is a type of unstructured interview that gathers historical information about a research subject by interviewing individuals who have knowledge of the experiences of the research subject. It aims at gathering different perspectives of these experiences in order to arrive at objective findings. 

Methods of recording information in oral history include audiotapes, videotapes, and the transcriptions of structured interviews. Oral history is a unique method of gathering information, thoughts and multiple perspectives, and understanding the research subject from the point of view of other individuals. 

  • Creative Interview

A creative interview is a type of unstructured interview that is flexible in nature and does not abide by the traditional rules and sequence of conducting an interview. 

  • Postmodern Interview

A postmodern interview is a collaborative approach to conducting an unstructured interview. In a postmodern interview, the roles are flexible and this gives the researcher the opportunity to gather more diverse information from different angles.   

During a postmodern interview, the researcher and the interviewee switch positions at intervals in a bid to gather diverse information. Also, this method combines premeditated questions with spontaneous inquiries in order to create a deeper understanding of the research subjects. 

Examples of Unstructured Interview

  • Recruitment Processes:

During face-to-face job interviews, the hiring team may use an unstructured interview as its method of inquiry and evaluation of a candidate. In many instances, the recruiter allows the conversation to be stirred in a natural direction by asking for more information based on the candidate’s responses. 

In many cases, the recruiter modifies his or her questions to suit the candidate’s specific experiences. Job interviews are typically conversational and the focus of the interview can be redefined at any moment in line with the overall goal of hiring a suitable candidate. 


  • Exploratory Research

A researcher wants to gather information about the experiences of pregnant high school students and he or she has no personal knowledge of the research situation. Hence, the researcher cannot develop a set of standardized questions for the inquiry but instead, opts for an unstructured interview that will allow for the modification along the line. 

  • Telephone Interviews:

Telephone interviews are usually non-directive, conversational and indirect in nature. In such situations, the interviewer may attempt to connect with the personality of the respondent while trying to gather information on the important issues in the research context. 

  • Panel Interviews

Although there are usually a set of questions generated for a panel interview, panel interviews are also very spontaneous in nature. In this sense, the moderator may begin the session with already-prepared questions and ask uniques follow-up questions to the panelists based on their earlier responses. 

Common questions in unstructured Interviews include:

  1. Tell us about yourself.
  2. What are your strengths and weaknesses? 
  3. What value are you bringing to the table? 

Tools used in an Unstructured Interview 

  • Audio Tapes

Audiotapes and other recording devices are used to record unstructured interviews. These recordings are later transcribed to serve as solid data for further investigations and aid research findings. 

In order to avoid loss of data due to low audio volume or background noise, it is best to make use of quality audio devices and conduct the interview in a quiet environment. 

  • Telephones

Unstructured interviews are also carried out via telephone conversations. This is a more convenient tool for conducting an unstructured interview since the researcher and the interviewee do not need to be in the same location. 

  • Camcorders

You can also conduct an unstructured interview by using a camcorder to record participants as they provide feedback in line with the research context. Unstructured interviews usually contain more open-ended questions that allow the interviewee to give as much information as is required. 


Best Types of questions for Unstructured Interview 

Open-Ended Questions

An open-ended question is a type of question whose responses are not limited to a specific set of options. In this sense, an open-ended question does not require a yes or no answer instead, it allows the respondent to communicate his or her knowledge and experiences when providing an answer. 

Usually, the responses given to open-ended questions are detailed and descriptive in nature, unlike close-ended question responses which are limited and brief. Asking open-ended questions in an unstructured interview allows the researcher to gain valuable information about the subject at hand.

Examples of Open-Ended Questions

  1. Tell us about your first experience with a panic attack.
  2. Describe a scenario where our product helped you to gain more clients.
  3. How has working with our organization impacted your life?
  4. What are your best college moments?
  5. What are your current professional priorities? 

Advantages of Open-Ended Questions

  • Detailed Information

Open-ended questions allows the researcher to collect more accurate, detailed and insightful information. Open-ended questions do not restrict the respondent to a set of possible answers and this allows the interviewee to explore multiple perspectives when providing an answer. 

  • Objective Research Outcomes

Open-ended questions allow the researcher to arrive at more objective research findings. This is because it provides the researcher with a bulk of in-depth and detailed responses which, in turn, enable him or her to achieve better research outcomes. 

  • Open-ended questions allow the researcher to collect large amounts of information since the interviewee is not limited to possible answers. 
  • It is most suitable for qualitative data-gathering. 

Disadvantages of Open-Ended Questions

  1. Data-gathering using open-ended questions is time-consuming; especially when it involves collecting responses from a large group. Open-ended questions are not very practical when dealing with large groups.
  2. It is difficult to extract the most relevant responses from the bulk of information provided via open-ended questions. 
  3. Open-ended questions lead to a lot of noise than closed questions. This noise can make it difficult to develop a deep understanding of the reasons behind the research situation.

Using Open-ended Questions for Unstructured Interviews

Unstructured interviews generate qualitative data through open-ended questions. In doing this, the interviewer creates an interview schedule that contains open-ended questions that can be asked in any sequence and questions can be added or omitted as the interview progresses.

Close-Ended Questions

A close-ended question is a type of question that limits interviewees to a range of possible responses in the form of options. A close-ended question typically requires a one-word answer and it is sometimes referred to as a yes/no question. 

Close-ended questions are often used in quantitative research to gather numerical data from the respondents. There are different types of close-ended questions including dichotomous questions and multiple-choice questions, and each type is primarily determined by the objective of the research. 

Examples of Close-Ended Questions

  1. Do you like our services?
  2. Yes
  3. No
  4. I’m not sure
  5. When did you decide to become a musician?
  6. In my Teenage years
  7. Undergraduate years
  8. Do you source for information on our website?
  9. Yes
  10. No
  11. I don’t wish to say
  12. Would you consider using our product again? 
  13. Yes
  14. No
  15. Maybe
  16. How would you rate our service delivery? 
  17. Excellent
  18. Very Good
  19. Good
  20. Fair
  21. Poor

Advantages of Close-Ended Questions

  1. Close-ended questions are more suitable for quantitative observation and research.
  2. It is easier to administer a survey or questionnaire containing close-ended questions.
  3. Replication is easier with close-ended questions.
  4. Responses to closed-ended questions are easy to process and analyze statistically. 
  5. Close-ended questions reduce the chances of survey drop-out.

Disadvantages of Close-Ended Questions 

  1. Close-ended questions are highly subjective in nature and can lead to survey response bias.
  2. Close-ended questions do not allow you to collect in-depth information about the experiences of the research subjects.
  3. Close-ended questions are also subject to misinterpretation. 

Using Close-ended Questions for Unstructured Interviews

Close-ended questions are used in unstructured interviews for systematic inquiries. In many cases, unstructured interviews begin with a set of close-ended questions that are further developed based on the responses provided. 

Multiple Choice Questions

A multiple-choice question is a type of close-ended question that provides a set of options for respondents to select the correct answer(s) from. It is also known as objective response and it can contain single-select or multi-select answer options. 

Typically, a multiple-choice question is made up of a stem, the correct answer(s) and other wrong options. There are different types of multiple-choice questions including single select multiple-choice questions, multi-select multiple-choice questions, and drop-down menu multiple-choice questions. 

Examples of Multiple Choice Questions

  1. How often do you use our product?
  2. Daily
  3. Weekly
  4. Bi-weekly
  5. Bi-monthly
  6. Monthly
  7. Which of our products have you used? 
  8. Hairdryer
  9. Iron
  10. Kettle
  11. Oven
  12. What type of credit card do you use?
  13. Visa
  14. Mastercard
  15. Verve
  16. Which of the following devices do you use?
  17. Laptop
  18. Notebook
  19. Smartphone
  20. Smartwatch

5. How would you rate our service delivery?

  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor

Advantages of Multiple Choice Questions

  1. Multiple choice questions are easy to process.
  2. Multiple choice questions are more objective than open-ended questions.
  3. It aids quantitative observation. 
  4. Multiple-choice questions cover wider areas of the research context. 
  5. A multiple-choice question is an effective method of assessment. 

Disadvantages of Multiple Choice Questions

  1. Multiple Choice questions expose the respondent to limited types of knowledge. 
  2. It cannot be used for problem-solving and high-order reasoning assessments. 
  3. Multiple-choice questions are also subject to possible ambiguity and misinterpretation. 

Using Multiple Choice Questions for Unstructured Interviews

Multiple-choice questions are used in surveys as a method of data gathering for unstructured interviews. When creating a survey for an unstructured interview, you can include multiple-choice questions to set the pace of your investigation. 

Dichotomous Questions

A dichotomous question is a type of close-ended question that can only have two possible answers. Typically, a dichotomous question contains yes/no, true/false or agree/disagree options and they are used to gather information related to the experiences and knowledge of a research subject. 

Dichotomous questions are typically used in educational research and assessments, and other research processes that require quantitative observation methods. It is important for researchers to limit the use of dichotomous questions in situations where there are only 2 possible answers. 

Examples of Dichotomous Questions.

  1. Do you enjoy using this product?
  2. Yes
  3. No
  4. I have always used this product for my skin.
  5. True
  6. False
  7. Are you allergic to fish?
  8. Yes
  9. No
  10. Have you ever heard a gunshot?
  11. Yes
  12. No

5. Have you ever visited our website?

  1. Yes
  2. No 

Advantages of Dichotomous Questions

  1. It is an effective method of quantitative data gathering. 
  2. It is easy to respond to and it is non-ambivalent in nature.
  3. It provides a simplified survey experience.
  4. It allows for ease of data-gathering and analysis.
  5. Dichotomous questions are brief, easy and simplified in nature. 

Disadvantages of Dichotomous Questions

  1. Dichotomous questions are limited in nature.
  2. It cannot be used to gather qualitative information in research. 
  3. It does not provide holistic views of information from different perspectives. 

Advantages of Unstructured Interview

  • Detailed Information

An unstructured interview allows you to gather more detailed and in-depth information about a research subject. As a result of its largely informal approach, the researcher has the opportunity to explore in-depth information from different perspectives before arriving at a research outcome. 

  • Flexibility

An unstructured interview is flexible and adapts easily to any developments that come up during the systematic investigation. When conducting an unstructured interview, the researcher can easily develop new hypotheses and questions based on the information provided by the interviewee.

  • Validity

Unstructured interviews are believed to produce more valid research outcomes than structured interviews. This is because it pays attention to the different knowledge and experiences of the research subjects in order to accurately describe these pieces of information. 

  • Bridging Communication Gaps:

In unstructured interviews, questions are informal and spontaneous. Therefore, they enable the interviewer and the interviewee to have a real conversation about the research subject rather than having the typical question and answer session associated with structured interviews. 

Disadvantages of Unstructured Interview

  • Time-consuming

Conducting an unstructured interview is largely time-consuming. Since the interviewer can come up with as many follow-up questions as are necessary, he or she can explore different areas of the research subject matter which typically takes extended periods of time. 

  • Small Sample Size

An unstructured interview is limited to a small data sample size because of its detailed approach that is time-consuming. This makes it difficult for the interviewer to arrive at objective research findings since his or her data does not accurately reflect the bulk of the research group. 

  • Quantitative Data

Unstructured interviews cannot be used to gather quantifiable data because it does not apply the same set of standardized questions to their research subjects. Hence, it is not suitable for statistical research processes that deal with measuring data using a range of numerical values. 

  • Unstructured interviews produce large amounts of data that are difficult to categorize and process. In many cases, the information gathered through an unstructured interview does not directly align with the research context and this makes it difficult for such pieces of information to be processed. 
  • Research Bias

Unstructured interviews are subject to research bias as a result of the relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee. Usually, the greater the status difference between the interviewer and the respondent, the less likely respondents are to express their true feelings. 


An unstructured interview is usually utilized for qualitative data gathering because of its in-depth approach to describing the experiences and knowledge of the interviewee. This contrasts the methodology of structured interviews which pays attention to collecting measurable data using a set of standardized questions. 

As highlighted in this article, there are different types of questions that can be included in an unstructured interview including open-ended questions, closed-ended questions, and dichotomous questions. These different types of questions foster the two-way communication between the interviewer and interviewee, and vice versa. 

  • busayo.longe
  • on 12 min read


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