Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Setting Up Targeted Research Interviews: A Primer for Students and New Interviewers

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Setting Up Targeted Research Interviews: A Primer for Students and New Interviewers

Article excerpt

Introduction

The interview method is one of the most widely used forms of data collection in sociology, so much so that as far back as 1956, the editorseditors of the American Journal of Sociology declared sociology as "the science of the interview" (Benney & Hughes, 1956, p. 137). One of the crucial questions facing interviewers is how to convince respondents to speak with them. A substantial literature exists examining this question in relation to survey research and household interviews, especially because non-response bias can shape the quantitative validity of survey research (Groves, Cialdini, & Couper, 1992; Groves & McGonagle, 2001; Lynn & Clarke, 2002; Morton-Williams, 1993; Morton-Williams & Young, 1987). However, with some notable exceptions, a scarcity of analysis has been devoted to the question of how to set up more targeted interviews in research projects that involve semi-structured interviews with specifically identified key informants, organizational representatives, or political elites (Devereux & Hoddinott, 1992; Dexter, 1970; Weiss, 1995). While there is much similarity between survey research and targeted interview research, setting up interviews differs substantially in these two approaches. Whereas survey research seeks to elicit broad responses from a representative sample of a population, targeted research interviews are often directed towards a handful, or even one or two people. The interview pitch is much more personalized and the choice of the interview respondent much more specific. More importantly, when there are only one or two people in the position or with the qualifications to answer the questions the researcher holds, the consequences of rejection are much greater.

Literature analyzing targeted, semi-structured interviews tends to focus on the development of interview questions, determining an interview sample, analysis of the interview delivery, building trust with an interview respondent, conducting an interview, and discussions on the hermeneutical status of interviews, with various perspectives identifying it alternatively as a constructed conversation, a dramatalurgical event, therapeutic process, or an objective attempt to extract information from a source (Briggs, 1986; Dick, 2006; Franz, 1942; Hermanowicz, 2002; Kvale, 1996; Mishler, 1986; Rubin & Rubin, 2005; Snow, Zurcher, & Sjoberg, 1982; Warren et al., 2003; Weiss, 1995). Scholarly discussions of interviews also focus on methods for coding, analyzing, or interpreting the interview, the locale of interviews, and on the relationship between the interviewer and interviewee, especially in relation to characteristics such as gender or age (Coffey & Atkinson, 1996; Herzog, 2005; Oakley, 1981; Reinharz & Chase, 2003; Riessman, 1987; Weston et al., 2001). However, until you convince someone to spend the time to talk to you, you will not obtain any data to analyze at all.

The process of setting up interviews is a sociological puzzle when we consider the variations involved in pitching interviews and scheduling appointments across organizational, cultural, and class dimensions. In this article, I will draw upon the experience of conducting over 250 interviews in 10 countries throughout Asia, Africa, Latin America, and North America. These interviews were conducted for research projects which examined public policy, homelessness, and social development. In all of this research, interview respondents were targeted as representatives of specific formal or informal organizations. Interviews were conducted with individuals ranging from homeless people in urban settings, to armed revolutionaries in mountain strongholds, to top corporate executives in fancy offices, to civil servants in local government agencies, to high-ranking politicians and national ministers, to grandmothers with AIDS in an African slums, to Non Governmental Organization (NGO) workers and directors, to militant Muslim leaders, Hindu gurus, International Development Bank officers, and hundreds of other people involved in a myriad of organizations. …

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