Individual Qualitative Interviews: Structured Interviews

Individual Qualitative Interviews: Structured Interviews

What is it?

When an interview is conducted as a structured interview, it means that you use a standardized interview guide. The guide is developed with a sharp focus and a clear idea of the purpose of the investigation.

Structured interviews are used as a way of examining the extent of a challenge. The method is apt for gaining an overview of what the problem really is. This overview can be used to make strategic or practical changes for the better.

How is it done?

Limit the challenge in one field of inquiry

You begin by finding out exactly what you want to know something about.

Think outside the challenge, turn it over and flip it around

Different ways of contextualizing the challenge may give you new ideas for ways to solve it. It is important to stay open to new patterns of thought.

Break down the field of inquiry into the subjects, which the challenge touches upon

By breaking down the field of inquiry it is possible to keep the interview guide progressively structured and effectively carried out.

Compose specific questions

Use ‘where’, ‘who’, ‘why’, and ‘how’ questions and avoid questions which might lead to ‘yes/no’ answers. Starting with a long list of questions, you take away the questions, which might give you irrelevant or similar answers.

Compose the interview guide

You group those questions from the list, which are related by topic.

Find the informants

Usually there are many types of informants to take into account, so who has the relevant answers to your questions? It could be both the users of your services, your own employees, business partners, experts or others.

Conduct the interviews within a set time frame

It is important to follow the interview guide so the answers can be used comparatively. It is a good idea to use a recorder or a camera. That way you will get all the relevant answers. The interviews can be carried out in different settings depending on the situation and the informants’ availability; either face to face or over the telephone. An interview takes around 30 minutes to 1½ hour to conduct.

Gather the main points from the answers and gain a general view

Write down where the informants agree or disagree so you have material of a workable quantity.

Work up the material and translate it into something useful

Focus on the information from the material, which makes sense in regards to your challenge.

What does it take?

Time frame

The method can be done in 1-3 days depending on the amount of informants.


–      Interview guides for conducting the interviews. Interview guides can both be printed copies to be filled out by hand or they can be filled out on a laptop.

–      A recorder or a camera for documenting the interview.

–      A whiteboard to gain the general perspective during the composing of the questions and for working up the generated data.


The method demands 1-4 employees. They don’t necessarily need to have any specific skills but the method is furthered by an empathic and attentive approach towards the informants and a knack for writing things down quickly.



John owns a campground, which is mainly used by young people during the peak season. However, the young people never seem to be able to keep the noise curfew at night. John decides to use structured interviews to examine if the problem can be solved in a suitable way.


Firstly John looks to other campgrounds in they are to see if they are faced with the same challenge. He finds that the young people apparently want a different kind of vacation than the older guests. In order to gain a general view and find a solution, John makes a list with questions such as: “What is most important for you when you are on a holiday?” and “How can you contribute to making your neighbors vacation better?”. He composes an interview guide, which contains the most important questions grouped by subject.

John asks two of his employees to help conduct the interviews and they each select 3-4 campers so they have a sufficient amount of informants. John and his employees conduct the interviews at the campground and record them on a recorder so they have all the details from the interviews. They also take pictures of the informants for the analysis of the interviews. They ask the informants’ consent and stress that the inquiry will only be used within the campground.


John goes through the interviews and gathers the main points. From the material, he gains an idea of what guests of the campground want from and need in a vacation. The young people want a space where they can have fun and party, whereas the older guests want their peace and quiet.


John opens a new zone for the young people in the campground. This means that the older guests can enjoy their peace and quiet and the young people can enjoy themselves without having to think of the noise curfew.

More on the method

The method is especially useful in combination with participant observation, personas and ethnoraid.

Further readings on structures interviews:

Spradley, James 1972 – The Ethnographic Interview – United States: Wadsworth Group