This chapter explores interview techniques. The use of interviews in social science expanded during the twentieth century. Research interviews with industrial, commercial, and market objectives have also contributed to their development as one of the main methods of social inquiry. The extensive use of interviews as a means of investigation and self-representation in modern society has contributed to their position as the ‘characteristic format for personal narratives’. While positivists conceive interviewers as miners whose main objective is data collection, post-positivists view them as travellers who unravel the intersubjective process of knowledge construction. These different epistemological conceptions of interview research have led to the development of various techniques. The chapter then looks at different types of interviews, including structured/directed interview, semi-structured/semi-directive interview, and in-depth/non-directive interview.
This chapter considers different types and forms of interviewing, including focus groups, and how they should be conducted. Interviews are a popular method of data collection in political research. They share similarities with surveys, but these similarities relate mostly to structured interviews. The chapter focuses on semi-structured interviews, including focus groups, the emphasis of which is to get the interviewee to open up and discuss something of relevance to the research question. After describing the different types and forms of interview, the chapter explains how interview data can be used to confirm or disconfirm a hypothesis or argument. It also shows how to plan and carry out an interview and how the type and wording of questions, as well as the order in which they are asked, affect the responses you get. Finally, it examines the interviewing skills that will ensure a more successful outcome to an interview.
This chapter deals with qualitative data. While everyone is familiar with the idea of interviewing and observing, actually collecting qualitative data is not as easy as it might first appear to be. In fact, when doing qualitative work, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of information collected. However, with some purposeful planning, piloting, and practice, the student can avoid some of the pitfalls associated with qualitative data collection. Focusing on qualitative interviews and participant observation, the chapter introduces some of the common issues that arise when gathering qualitative data and offers useful advice concerning the planning and practice of collecting data ‘in the field’.
Trends, Issues, and Debates
Andrew Parker and Jonathan Tritter
This chapter looks at focus groups, which grew out of both a therapeutic and marketing tradition and have been utilized by social scientists for many years. Their format constitutes a type of interview technique where six to twelve people are brought together and encouraged to discuss specific topics for 60–90 minutes in order that underlying issues might be explored. Focus groups are often used to investigate areas about which relatively little is known, and they are premised on face-to-face interactions between participants rather than direct responses to questions. More recently they have been adapted to online settings, particularly for hard-to-reach populations. Focus groups are valuable because they capture and harness group interaction to prompt fuller and deeper discussion and the triggering of new ideas. But in order for these dynamics to develop, it is vital that people’s stories are not already well known to each other.
This chapter discusses the principles of survey research as well as the issues and problems associated with different stages of the research design process. In particular, it examines questionnaire design, sample design, and interviewing techniques, along with the common sources of error that affect survey research and what can be done to try and avoid or minimize them. Although surveys have several weaknesses, they are widely used in political research to investigate a wide range of political phenomena. They combine two things: obtaining information from people by asking questions and random sampling. When done well, surveys provide an accurate and reliable insight into what ordinary people think about politics and how they participate in politics. The chapter considers the elements of a survey that need to be addressed, namely: questionnaire design, measurement error, sampling design, sampling error, and interview mode.
Sandra Halperin and Oliver Heath
Political Research: Methods and Practical Skills provides a practical and relevant guide to the research process for students. It equips readers with the knowledge and skills needed to evaluate research findings and successfully carry out independent study and research. Taking a helpful step-by-step approach, the chapters guide the reader through the process of asking and answering research questions and the different methods used in political research, providing practical advice on how to be critical and rigorous in both evaluating and conducting research. Topics include research design, surveys, interviewing and focus groups, ethnography and participant observation, textual analysis, quantitative analysis, bivariate analysis, and multivariate analysis. With an emphasis throughout on how research can impact important political questions and policy issues, the book equips readers with the skills to formulate significant questions and develop meaningful and persuasive answers.
This chapter focuses on the basic principles of research design. It first considers different types of research design, including experimental designs, cross-sectional and longitudinal designs, comparative designs, and historical research designs. It also discusses two types of research validity: internal validity and external validity. The chapter proceeds by describing various methods of data collection and the sort of data or evidence each provides, including questionnaires and surveys, interviewing and focus groups, ethnographic research, and discourse/content analysis. Finally, it examines six issues that must be taken into account to ensure ethical research: voluntary participation, informed consent, privacy, harm, exploitation, and consequences for future research.