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Types Of Research Papers Exploratory Interview

Year : 2013  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 56-59

Three types of interviews: Qualitative research methods in social health

Heather L Stuckey
Department of Medicine and Public Health Sciences, Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, PA 17033, USA

Date of Web Publication20-Jul-2013

Correspondence Address:
Heather L Stuckey
Department of Medicine and Public Health Sciences, Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, PA 17033

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2321-0656.115294


Interviewing is a primary way of collecting data in qualitative research to direct the participant in responding to a specific research question. In diabetes, this may include "what are the reasons that have contributed to your success in diabetes self-management" or "how do you believe stress impacts your blood glucose?" Three types of interviews are common in social health: (1) Structured; (2) semi-structured; and (3) narrative interview. These range in a format including specified sets of questions to the telling of patient stories in an organic way. This paper describes the differences between these types of interviews and examples of each related to diabetes research.

Keywords: Interviews, qualitative research, social health

How to cite this article:
Stuckey HL. Three types of interviews: Qualitative research methods in social health. J Soc Health Diabetes 2013;1:56-9

How to cite this URL:
Stuckey HL. Three types of interviews: Qualitative research methods in social health. J Soc Health Diabetes [serial online] 2013 [cited 2018 Mar 11];1:56-9. Available from:


When my son was age 4 or 5, he asked what I did for my job. I told him I talked to people to learn about their life and what they were thinking. As I was getting ready for the work, he asked if I was getting dressed up so I could do an "inner-view." An interview is exactly that: A way for researchers to understand the thought process that exists inside, an inner look at why people behave in the way they do. This article is about using interviewing as a design method to collect the qualitative data that are desired based on the research question. The data are only as good as the questions that we ask. With a focus on questions about diabetes self-management and behaviors, this article offers guidelines for interviewing in social health and provides concrete examples from my experience in research.

One advantage of qualitative methods in exploratory health research is that use of open-ended questions and probing gives participants the opportunity to respond in their own words, rather than forcing them to choose from fixed responses. [1] Open-ended questions elicit responses that are meaningful and culturally salient to the participant; unanticipated by the researcher; rich and explanatory in nature. Another advantage of interviewing methods is they allow the researcher the flexibility to probe initial participant responses - that is, to ask why or how. The researcher must listen carefully to what participants say, engage with them according to their individual characteristics and think through "probes" to encourage their elaboration of answers.

Interview styles range widely, but share a defining characteristic of using questions to understand the thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behavior of people. [2] Primarily, there are four types of interviews common in social health: (1) Structured; (2) semi-structured; and (3) narrative interview. [3] The primary difference between them is the amount of control the interviewer has over the encounter and the aim of the interview. It is generally, best to tape-record interviews and later transcribe these tapes for analysis. While it is possible to take notes during the session (and encouraged), it is difficult to capture direct quotes from the participants while still engaging in the conversation. Because it is more important to maintain focus on the participant to build rapport and dialog rather than on the notes, the recorder will assist in capturing the data.

  Structured Interview 

The questions asked during a structured interview control, the data elicited by the respondent quite tightly. The interview is structured because the researcher follows a specific set of questions in a predetermined order with a limited number of response categories. [4] This would be appropriate to use when interviews require that the participant give a response to each ordered question, which are often shorter in nature. The questions in a structured interview are like those in a job interview, where the employer asks the same set of questions for consistency. It is also like a theatrical script to be followed in a standardized and straightforward manner. Because the questions are routinely asked, a larger number of participants typically are in these studies. The interviewer records the responses according to a coding scheme that has been established according to the research question.

In diabetes, an example of a research question in a structured interview is "from the following six items, tell me, which one of these positively affects your diabetes control the most and why." A structured interview is helpful when the researcher knows much about the topic and creates the questions in a survey-like format with open-ended questions. An example of a structured interview can be found in a study of genetic and life-style causal beliefs about obesity and associated diseases among 205 ethnically diverse patients. [5] Other examples in diabetes literature include prediction of glycemic control in children [6] and treatment response in Type 2 with a major depression. [7] According to Denzin and Lincoln (p. 124), [4] there are five guidelines to keep in mind:

  1. Stay consistent with the study introduction, sequence of questions and question wording.
  2. Do not let another person answer for the participant or offer his/her opinion about the question.
  3. Do not suggest an answer or agree or disagree with an answer. You do not want to give the respondent any idea of your personal views on the topic.
  4. Do not interpret the meaning of a question. If the participant does not understand the question, you should just repeat the question and ask him/her to give the best response or choose to skip the question.
  5. Do not improvise, such as adding answer categories or making word changes.

Telephone interviews, interviews in malls or public places and interviews generally associated with survey research are most likely to be included in the structured interview category. The other two types of interviews are more common in health research and are described below.

  Semi-structured Interviews 

In a semi-structured interview, the researcher sets the outline for the topics covered, but the interviewee's responses determine the way, in which the interview is directed. This is the most commonly used type of interview used in qualitative research and many studies illustrate its use in the context of diabetes and diabetes self-management. [8],[9],[10],[11],[12],[13],[14],[15],[16],[17] The semi-structured interview guide provides a clear set of instructions for interviewers and can provide reliable, comparable qualitative data.

Semi-structured interviews are often preceded by observation, informal and unstructured interviewing in order to allow researchers to develop a keen understanding the topic of interest necessary for developing relevant and meaningful semi-structured questions. The inclusion of open-ended questions and training of interviewers to follow relevant topics that may stray from the interview guide does; however, still provide the opportunity for identifying new ways of seeing and understanding the topic at hand. [18] An example of an interview guide that is semi-structured:

Topic one: Personal story

  1. Tell us something about yourself (your work, family, what you enjoy doing in your spare time).
  2. What were your symptoms at diagnosis? What were you feeling?
  3. Where did you learn to take care of your diabetes? What kinds of things did you learn?
  4. What are some of your motivations for wanting to control your diabetes?

Topic one: Personal story

1. Tell us something about yourself (your work, family, what you enjoy doing in your spare time).

2. What were your symptoms at diagnosis? What were you feeling?

3. Where did you learn to take care of your diabetes? What kinds of things did you learn?

4. What are some of your motivations for wanting to control your diabetes?

Topic two: Best practices of diabetes self-management

5. What do you do to manage your diabetes?

6. Walk me through a typical day. What time do you wake up, exercise, eat, take your medications, check your blood sugar and go to bed?

7. Please tell me what you ate yesterday at each meal, drink and snacks?

8. What do you do in particular that helps you the most with your diabetes?

9. Did you always take care of your diabetes? Tell me about that.

10. What are you thinking when you are checking your blood sugar or doing something good for yourself?

Topic three: Barriers and factors for success in diabetes self-management

11. What's your biggest struggle that you have with daily diabetes self-management?

12. What keeps you on track?

13. What happens when you get off track?

14. How do you manage low blood sugars? What are you thinking? What do you do?

15. How do you manage high blood sugars? What are you thinking? What do you do?

16. If you could describe your diabetes when you were first diagnosed in the form of a picture or an image or a word, how would you describe or imagine it? How would you describe or imagine it now?

In general, the interviewer has a paper-based interview guide to follow, which is based on the research question. It is called semi-structured because discussions may diverge from the interview guide, which can be more interesting than the initial question that is asked. The participant does not need to answer the questions in order. Semi-structured interviews allow questions to be prepared ahead of time, which allows the interviewer to be prepared, yet gives the participant freedom to express views with his/her own words.

  Narrative Interviews 

Narratives are stories that are based on the unfolding of events or actions from the perspective of a participant's life experience. Narration is not new; in fact, it is one of the oldest human activities. [19] In diabetes, patients tell their stories of illness and how they live with illness over time. The story of the individual patient (the case) is still, despite the reliance of medicine on scientific theory and generalizable results, an important mechanism for understanding how general scientific knowledge is applied. [20] In recent years, more formal study of narratives in social health has become a method to represent and interpret an individual's lived experience.

Certain questions or concerns in diabetes social health research lend themselves to a narrative interview approach. It is an approach to use when little is known about the research topic, for instance how religious beliefs might affect diabetes self-management. The researcher could begin the narrative interview with a wide net, such as "what are your religious beliefs?" with one follow-up question of "how do you these beliefs impact your diabetes management?"

Researchers who conduct narrative research assume that a narrative of chronic illness, such as diabetes, is not simply the story of an illness, but the story of a life that is altered by illness. [21] Researchers interested in narrative and diabetes have conducted studies in a variety of topics [22],[23],[24],[25] , which are displayed below in [Table 1]. After asking the narrative question, researchers encourage participants to tell their illness stories.
Table 1: Selected examples of narrative interviews related to diabetes self-management

Click here to view

The benefit of narrative interviews is that the participant guides the interview and may tell you information that could not have been predicted. The downside of these types of interviews is that they are often lengthy, lasting often 1 h. They are also more difficult to analysis than other types of interviews because it is an unstructured approach to interviewing that yields wide and deep themes.


In this article, we discussed three types of interviews used in social health research: (1) Structured; (2) semi-structured; and (3) narrative interview, each with varied levels of openness in format. Structured interviews have sequential and defined order in the questioning, where semi-structured interviews have a focus, but are flexible in order based upon the direction of the participant's responses. Narrative interviews are unstructured and typically begin with a wide open-ended question about a participant experience, where the participant is rarely interrupted in the telling of their story. Each of these three interview types can be used in qualitative research to extrapolate meaning of illness from the participant's perspective.


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2.Grant MA, Rohr LN, Grant JT. How informants answer questions?: Implications for reflexivity. Field Methods 2012;24:230-46.  
3.Green JT. Qualitative Methods for Health Research. In: Silverman D, editor. 2 nd ed. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.; 2009.  
4.Denzin NK, Lincoln YS, editors. Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Materials. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE; 2008. p. 124.  
5.Sanderson SC, Diefenbach MA, Streicher SA, Jabs EW, Smirnoff M, Horowitz CR, et al. Genetic and lifestyle causal beliefs about obesity and associated diseases among ethnically diverse patients: A structured interview study. Public Health Genomics 2013;16:83-9.  
6.Rohan JM, Pendley JS, Delamater A, Dolan L, Reeves G, Drotar D. Patterns of self-management in pediatric type 1 diabetes predict level of glycemic control 2 years later. J Dev Behav Pediatr 2013;34:186-96.  
7.Gois C, Dias VV, Carmo I, Duarte R, Ferro A, Santos AL, et al. Treatment response in type 2 diabetes patients with major depression. Clin Psychol Psychother 2012. [In Press]  
8.Rise MB, Pellerud A, Rygg LØ, Steinsbekk A. Making and maintaining lifestyle changes after participating in group based type 2 diabetes self-management educations: A qualitative study. PLoS One 2013;8:e64009.  
9.van Esch SC, Heideman WH, Cleijne W, Cornel MC, Snoek FJ. Health care providers' perspective on using family history in the prevention of type 2 diabetes: A qualitative study including different disciplines. BMC Fam Pract 2013;14:31.  
10.Noor Abdulhadi NM, Al-Shafaee MA, Wahlström R, Hjelm K. Doctors' and nurses' views on patient care for type 2 diabetes: An interview study in primary health care in Oman. Prim Health Care Res Dev 2013;14:258-69.  
11.Mathew CS, Dominic M, Isaac R, Jacob JJ. Prevalence of depression in consecutive patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus of 5-year duration and its impact on glycemic control. Indian J Endocrinol Metab 2012;16:764-8.  
12.Hjelm K, Bard K, Apelqvist J. Gestational diabetes: Prospective interview-study of the developing beliefs about health, illness and health care in migrant women. J Clin Nurs 2012;21:3244-56.  
13.Chang HY, Wallis M, Tiralongo E, Wang HL. Decision-making related to complementary and alternative medicine use by people with type 2 diabetes: A qualitative study. J Clin Nurs 2012;21:3205-15.  
14.Hultsjö S. Mental healthcare staff's knowledge and experiences of diabetes care for persons with psychosis-A qualitative interview study. Prim Health Care Res Dev 2013;14:281-92.  
15.Lindenmeyer A, Bowyer V, Roscoe J, Dale J, Sutcliffe P. Oral health awareness and care preferences in patients with diabetes: A qualitative study. Fam Pract 2013;30:113-8.  
16.Beverly EA, Ritholz MD, Brooks KM, Hultgren BA, Lee Y, Abrahamson MJ, et al. A qualitative study of perceived responsibility and self-blame in type 2 diabetes: Reflections of physicians and patients. J Gen Intern Med 2012;27:1180-7.  
17.Patel N, Stone MA, Chauhan A, Davies MJ, Khunti K. Insulin initiation and management in people with type 2 diabetes in an ethnically diverse population: The healthcare provider perspective. Diabet Med 2012;29:1311-6.  
18.Cohen D, Crabtree BF. Qualitative Research Guidelines Project 2006. Available from: [Last accessed on 2013 July 10].  
19.Rubinstein RL. Narratives of elder parental death: A structural and cultural analysis. Med Anthropol Q 1995;9:257-76.  
20.Crabtree BF, Miller WL, editors. Doing Qualitative Research. 2 nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE; 1999.  
21.Garro LC. Narrative representations of chronic illness experience: Cultural models of illness, mind and body in stories concerning the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Soc Sci Med 1994;38:775-88.  
22.Audulv A. The over time development of chronic illness self-management patterns: A longitudinal qualitative study. BMC Public Health 2013;13:452.  
23.Garmo A, Hörnsten A, Leksell J. The pump was a saviour for me. 'Patients' experiences of insulin pump therapy. Diabet Med 2013;30:717-23.  
24.Gomersall T, Madill A, Summers LK. Getting one's thoughts straight: A dialogical analysis of women›s accounts of poorly controlled type 2 diabetes. Psychol Health 2012;27:378-93.  
25.Rosenbek Minet LK, Lønvig EM, Henriksen JE, Wagner L. The experience of living with diabetes following a self-management program based on motivational interviewing. Qual Health Res 2011;21:1115-26.  


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There’s nothing worse than asking someone to grant you an informational interview and having nothing to say. This person is sacrificing part of her day for absolutely no ostensible benefit, so you’d better make it a pleasant encounter for her, and more importantly, make her feel like she helped. (It’s a scientific fact that people will feel positively toward you if they feel they’ve done something to help you.) Please, don’t subject them to awkward silences for their informational interview questions.

Even for a casual informational interview, go in prepared with as much information as you can possibly acquire. Research the company, and even more importantly, give the person’s LinkedIn a thorough review. Find out where she went to college, where she worked before this, her full job history. If you want to ensure that you hit it off, give her a quick stalk on Twitter, find out a few of her interests and see if you can naturally work one into the initial chit-chat portion of the meeting. Making people like you (and thus, want to help you) is not rocket science.

[Read: Your Guide to Top Interview Questions and Answers]

Yes, do your research. Yes, have insightful questions prepared beforehand. Emerge with new information that could help you. But remember that informational interviews are not Q&As. They are “feel me out and see what you think so maybe you’ll like me and be inclined to help in the future” meetings. What I’m saying is: Be friendly. Be casual, but not too casual. Compliment the person without it being obvious. Crack a joke for God’s sake. Approach it almost like you would a first date: Be interested in the other person and make her like you. Now, to business.

1. I know that you [spent ten years at X before this,] but how did you start out in [this industry]?

After the small talk (don’t skip the small talk), make sure they’re aware that you’ve done your research. Phew, they’ll think. I don’t have to waste time explaining my entire career path to this idiot when it’s right there on my very public LinkedIn page. You’re already ahead of the game.

[Learn: Find Your Purpose]

2. Is there something you wish you’d known or a skill you wish you’d had starting out in [this industry]? Or Is there something you wish you had done differently starting out?

This is a question that will almost definitely get you some useful information. Always take advantage of the opportunity to learn from other people’s mistakes.

3. What’s the culture like at [this company] compared to [prior company]?

In all likelihood, this person has worked at one or more comparable companies. Take the opportunity to get a comparison from the best possible source.

4. What’s your biggest challenge in this role?

If this person’s job is one you hope to do one day, this is a great way to get a better sense of what it takes.

5. What do you dislike about this company?

Unlike a hiring manager, random employees will actually give you dirt on a company.

[Read: The Top 10 Most Interesting Interview Questions]

6. Would you mind taking a quick look at my resume?

If this person has any hand in hiring people for this company in any capacity, you want her to take a look at your resume, which you should have on hand at all times. She can point out flaws that you didn’t even know were flaws.

7. How does my experience stack up to others applying for [X level positions]?

Again, this is only if the person has any hand in hiring.

8. What type of personalities fit in best at your company?

I think this is an absolutely crucial question for any informational interview or official job interview, because certain companies have a definite “type.” And you now have the chance to find out if that type is you before you even apply.

9. What is the best way to get my foot in the door here?

Don’t let the conversation end without any tangible next steps. If you want to work at this company, ask what more you can do.

10. Is there anyone else you think I should speak to?

If your informational interviews don’t spark a trail of more people to talk to, you’re doing something wrong. (I can’t pinpoint what exactly because I don’t have all the details on the company, your work experience, or a full-length film of this meeting, but it’s definitely something.) If you hit it off, Judy should say, “You know who should talk to? Ned. Let me give you his email address.” Maybe Judy can’t help you any further, but Ned probably can. And if Ned can’t, then you’d better get Marcia’s email out of him. And so on and so forth until someone offers you an actual interview. If Judy doesn’t spontaneously offer the name of the next person in your trail, you have to ask for it.

Photo: Joshua Hodge Photography / Getty Images