There are various problems that occur when using a type of interview, but whichever one the sociologist is using, different problems will amount. There are four main types of interviews. They are; Structured interviews, Unstructured interviews, semi-structured interviews, and group interviews. A structured interview is when the interviewer has an interview schedule that they follow exactly during the interview. Problems with this type of interview method are that, structured interviews are difficult to conduct in a covert manner because the respondent knows what the interviewers intentions are and because structured interviews tend to be conducted in an overt manner, the Hawthorne effect is more likely to occur. Which would mean that the validity of the interview is questionable.
The validity of the interview is not only questionable because of the Hawthorne effect occurring, it is also questionable because it produces quantitative data which means that this says little about the meanings and motives of the person being interviewed. Another problem is that because the interviewer has an interview schedule, to ask they might miss some interesting information because it’s not on their checklist. Also the interviewer may influence what the respondent says because the questions may ask leading questions. However some good things about structured interviews are, that they create quantitative data which means that the findings are easy to analyse and positivists would like this method because it follows their scientific approach to sociology. Also because it creates quantifiable data, patterns and trends can be noted. An unstructured interview is when the interviewer has not got an interview schedule and instead a conversation develops naturally. Unstructured interviews are often used for sensitive topics such as domestic violence.
Problems with this type of interview method are that, this method is costly because you have to either pay for a trained interviewer, or pay to train an interviewer, also you’d have to pay the interviewer for their time. Another problem is that because they are in-depth interviews they take a long time to conduct and this restricts the amount which can be carried out. This means that they lack representativeness and will be hard to generalise to the wider population. Unstructured interviews lack reliability because no two interviews are the same and the interviewer is free to ask whatever questions they wish, so it would be nearly impossible for another researcher to replicate the interviews and check the findings or compare them with their own. As well as this, because unstructured interviews use open-ended questions, there cannot be pre-coded answers. This makes it very difficult to analyse the findings, also because the interviewer can ask whatever question they want, they may ask leading questions to get a certain answer, and the social interaction between the interviewer and interviewee may also have an influence on the answers which are given because whilst it is an unstructured interview where a rapport can be established, both the interviewer and the interviewee know that it is an interview so it is doubtful as to whether truthful answers can be obtained.
This means that the validity of unstructured interviews can be questioned. However there are advantages to using unstructured interviews. An unstructured interview allows for the interviewer to create a rapport, a relationship of trust and understanding, between them and the interviewer. Which means that the interviewee is more likely to open up about their emotions because they feel more at ease with the interviewer. Also because there are no set questions, the interviewee is allowed more opportunity to develop detail in their answers which means that the answers are more likely to be valid. As well as this, unstructured interviews have a big advantage over structured interviews because if the interviewee doesn’t understand a question, it can be explained, and similarly, if the interviewer doesn’t understand what the interviewee’s answer means, he/she can use follow-up questions to clear up the misunderstandings. Interpretivists prefer this method because it seeks out validity, which is the main goal of an Interpretivist sociologist. A Group interview is when the sociologist interviews a group of people rather than doing one-on-one interviews.
This has certain strengths and problems, the main problems with group interviews is that one or two individuals may dominate the discussion which stops others from contributing, also peer group pressure may have an influence on some peoples answers because they may not want to seem uncool in front of their friends. This means that the data found may not be valid because it may not be truthful data, also group interviews lack reliability because you wont be able to get similar answers each time because group interviews tend to be unstructured so would not be easily replicable. Also data generated from group interviews is very complex and more difficult to analyse. However there are strengths to using group interviews.
Participants may feel more comfortable being with others and therefore more likely to open up to the interviewer. Also participants will throw ideas around the group which will produce richer, more reflective data. As well as this, the researcher can combine questioning with the opportunity to observe group dynamics and norms. Interpretivists will like this method because it seeks validity, which, again is an Interpretivist sociologist’s main goal in research. A Semi-structured interview is a mixture of both structured and unstructured interviews in the way that each interview has the same set of questions to be asked, but the interviewer can drift away from the interview schedule to get more information. Semi-structured interviews are seen as the best for sociologists as they take some of the advantages of both types of interviews and merges them together, however, there are disadvantages to using them.
Like with all other types of interviews, you cannot guarantee the honesty of the interviewees. Also the open ended questions which aren’t on the interview schedule are going to be difficult to analyse. Also because the interviewer has the flexibility to drift away from the schedule it means that the reliability is lowered. As well as this it is difficult to compare answers with other interviews of the same topic because they will not have asked exactly the same questions as the interviewer. However, a large amount of detail will be generated because they use both open-ended and closed questions. Also they are fairly reliable and relatively easy to analyse because of the pre-coded questions. Both Positivists and Interpretivists would like this because they seek out both of their respective views on sociological research. In conclusion, all types of interviews have their own problems, some more than others. It seems that unstructured interviews are the most problematic with structured being the least problematic. However it seems that semi-structured interviews are the most favoured because they gain both qualitative data and quantitative data.