Semi-Structured Interviews

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What are Semi-Structured Interviews?

Semi-structured interviews are a research method that uses both predetermined questions and open-ended exploration to gain more in-depth insights into participants' perspectives, attitudes, and experiences.

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Semi-structured interviews are commonly used in social science research, market research, and other fields where an understanding of people's attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs is important.

Key Characteristics of Semi-Structured Interviews

Semi-structured interviews have several key characteristics that differentiate them from other types of interviews: 

  • The flexible nature allows researchers to dive deeper into a topic and adapt the interview based on new insights or issues. Unlike structured interviews, which rely on a fixed set of questions and responses, semi-structured interviews allow for more open-ended discussion, which can lead to unexpected insights and perspectives.

  • Their emphasis is on participant perspectives and experiences. Rather than simply gathering participant data or information, the purpose of semi-structured interviews is to understand how participants think and feel about particular topics or issues. This approach allows researchers to understand better the social and cultural contexts in which participants live and work.

  • They are often used in research projects that aim to generate new ideas or theories rather than test existing ones. Because they allow for open-ended discussion and exploration, they can effectively generate new insights into complex social phenomena.

Types of Questions for Semi-Structured Interviews

Semi-structured interviews use a combination of predetermined questions and open-ended exploration to learn more about participants' perspectives. There are three main categories of questions you can use:

  • Open-ended Questions: These are broad, general questions that allow participants to express their thoughts and feelings on a topic without restriction. Open-ended questions typically begin with phrases like "Tell me about..." or "How do you feel about...". These questions help encourage participants to share their experiences and perspectives in their own words.

  • Closed-ended Questions: Closed-ended questions are more specific and provide the participant with predetermined responses. These questions typically begin with phrases like "Do you agree or disagree with..." or "Which option best describes...". Closed-ended questions can help gather data on specific attitudes or behaviors.

  • Probing Questions: Probing questions are follow-up questions that aim to clarify or expand upon a participant's response. These questions typically begin with phrases like "Can you tell me more about..." or "Why do you think that is...". Probing questions can help a researcher to understand a participant's thought process or experience.

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Steps to Conduct a Successful Semi-Structured Interview

Proper preparation is key to conducting successful semi-structured interviews. Below are some tips for preparing for your interviews:

  • Define Your Research Questions: Before conducting interviews, it's important to understand your research questions and objectives clearly. This will help you develop a set of initial questions to guide your interview process.

  • Develop an Interview Guide: An interview guide is a list of questions and prompts designed to elicit information from participants. It should include open-ended and closed-ended questions and probing questions to encourage participants to elaborate on their responses.

  • Pilot Test Your Interview Guide: It's important to pilot test your interview guide with a small group of participants before conducting full-scale interviews. This will allow you to identify potential issues or areas where the questions must be revised.

  • Identify and Recruit Participants: Ensure that your sample is representative of the population you are studying. Consider using targeted sampling methods, such as snowball sampling or maximum variation sampling, to recruit participants who can provide diverse perspectives.

  • Schedule Interviews: Once you've identified and recruited participants, it's time to schedule interviews. Be sure to allow adequate time between interviews for transcription and analysis.

  • Conduct Interviews: During the interview process, it's important to establish rapport with participants and create a comfortable environment where they feel safe sharing their experiences and opinions. Be sure to follow your interview guide while allowing flexibility in response to unexpected information during the discussion.

  • Provide Compensation or Incentives to Participants: Consider offering compensation or incentives to participants to encourage their participation. Compensation can come in many forms, such as gift cards, cash, or vouchers. It can also be non-monetary, such as offering participants the opportunity to receive a summary of the study's findings or the chance to participate in future research projects. Compensation or incentives can help to show participants that their time and contributions are valued and appreciated.

Plan your research with this helpful checklist. Then, get ready to conduct semi-structured interviews! Download this template for help in creating different types of interview questions. 

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Learn More about Semi Structured Interviews

Take our course on User Research – Methods and Best Practices. 

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Read more about the process of conducting semi-structured interviews.

Learn how to analyze the data from your semi-structured interviews. 

Read this reflection on semi-structured interviews as a research instrument. 

Learn how to use the snowball sampling method to recruit participants.

Do you need more diversity in your study? Try maximum variation sampling.

Literature on Semi-Structured Interviews

Here’s the entire UX literature on Semi-Structured Interviews by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Semi-Structured Interviews

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