The key to understanding how a semi-structured interview is carried out is to look at the name: it’s semi-structured. This means it has some structure, but there’s freedom.
The structure in this interview method comes in the form of the interview guide that is planned beforehand. This guide includes the general themes or topics that the researcher wants to cover in the actual interview. The interview will consist of a range of questions, including open-ended questions that allow for the interviewees to provide detailed responses.
So in this structure they ask a combination of open and closed questions, but they are free to provide prompts and go in to more depth depending on the responses provided by the participants. This flexibility is what allows for a lot of data to be collected. It also results in the interview hopefully resembling more of an informal conversation, rather than an interrogation.
Let’s take a look at this fictional example about international student’s first day in school.
The aim of the research is to learn more about strategies international students might use when adjusting to a new school in a new country.
- Where’s the student from?
- How long have they been here?
- What are they liking about the new school?
- Difficulties they have currently
- Was there something difficult in the past that’s not a problem now
- If so, how did they manage to overcome this problem?
This is a very basic guide, but you might be able to get an idea of how this interview might play out between an interviewer and an interviewee. You can see there’s a combination of questions aimed to get a range of data and the themes are stated, as opposed to ask questions. This allows the researcher flexibility to offer additional follow-up questions if they need clarifying or perhaps they want more information from the interviewee.
Explain these methods in the abstract is rather difficult, but you may be able to show your understanding in relation to a specific example of semi-structured interviews if this is what is asked in the exam.
Download the key concept study guide for semi-structured interview semi-structured-interview, including a past paper example.
Travis Dixon is an IB Psychology teacher, author, workshop leader, examiner and IA moderator.