Academic journal article English Language Teaching

The Development of Interview Techniques in Language Studies: Facilitating the Researchers' Views on Interactive Encounters

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

The Development of Interview Techniques in Language Studies: Facilitating the Researchers' Views on Interactive Encounters

Article excerpt


In a more complex and dynamic world, it is important to have knowledge of research methods in order to understand our internal and external environments. This paper aims to outline different ways of approaching research into language studies and mainly provides an introduction to one of them, the interview. As interviewing is one of the main data collection methods in qualitative research as well as one of the most powerful ways to understand other people, we explore its salient features and some issues surrounding its application. This paper begins by sketching out different research approaches and then describing the nature of the interview, its typology and types in terms of the degree of structure. Subsequent parts consider ethical and practical considerations in interpersonal interviews. The final section includes our reflections on actual interviews and touches on two additional interests.

Keywords: research methods, qualitative research, interview techniques in language studies

1. Introduction

Research is a process of obtaining information and understanding issues (Hitchcock & Hughes, 1995). There are many different approaches to conducting research projects in language studies and each methodological approach is probably situated within a quantitative or qualitative research approach. Surveys, tests, structured interviews, laboratory experiments, and non-participant observations are usually employed in quantitative methods and participant observation, unstructured interviews or life histories in qualitative methods (Bryman, 1988; Scalon, 2000). According to Oppenheim (1992), as there is no single approach to be necessarily superior, choosing a research method depends on the purpose and the type of question of research. Although the two approaches are categorized as different research methods, there is no reason to see quantitative and qualitative methods as mutually exclusive in terms of triangulation. In practice, a particular study may employ a combination of approaches depending on the research purposes and context. For example, it would be possible to combine interviews and a questionnaire in one research instrument thus benefiting from the advantages of both methods. Another possibility could be observation with a questionnaire, because an observation usually takes a great deal of patience and time sitting and waiting for data to be generated, whereas a questionnaire survey can give immediate rewards.

2. The Nature of the Interview

2.1 Interview as a Speech Event

An interview has been defined as a conversation between interviewer and interviewee with a purpose (Dexter, 1970; Moser & Kalton, 1971) or as "a guided conversation" (Lofland & Lofland, 1984, p. 2). In describing a "speech event" (Hitchcock & Hughes, 1995, p. 69) or "conversational encounters" (ibid., p. 153), there is a basic concern with asking questions and receiving answers. It is not a normal conversation, however. There is much more to it in a qualitative research context (Dunne et al., 2005). What makes the interview different from a conversation is that it is designed for a specific purpose (Keats, 2000). For example, Cohen (1976) points out that an interview requires careful preparation, much patience, and considerable practice as it constitutes a type of fishing to enter the interviewee's world or understand their construction of reality, which cannot be observed directly.

There is a wide range of approaches to the interview, but there is no single way of interviewing that is appropriate for all situations and probably no single way of wording questions that will always work. Although acknowledging that there is no recipe for effective interviewing and no rigid interview guide, Patton (1987) offers useful interview guidelines and Bell (1999) provides an interview checklist including issues of access, location, timing, communication, recording, and exit.

2.2 Interview Typology

There is a range of different interview typologies, which are frequently categorized in relation to their structures (Pole & Lampard, 2002). …

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