Semi Structured Interview Format Essay

A semi-structured interview is a qualitative method of inquiry that combines a pre-determined set of open questions (questions that prompt discussion) with the opportunity for the interviewer to explore particular themes or responses further.

A semi-structured interview does not limit respondents to a set of pre-determined answers (unlike a structured questionnaire).

Semi-structured interviews are used to understand how interventions work and how they could be improved.  It also allows respondents to discuss and raise issues that you may not have considered.

Provides valuable information from context of participants (and stakeholder) experiencesCan be time consuming to collect and analyse data
Use of pre-determined questions provides uniformityRequires some level of training or practice in order to prevent interviewer suggesting answers

Semi-structured (Qualitative) Interview Checklist

The following information provides a checklist of what you need to consider in planning and conducting a qualitative interview. It is important to remember that a qualitative interview is not the same as delivering a questionnaire face-to-face. It rather uses open-ended questions to prompt respondents to think, express values and provide answers in their words.

When Interviewing

Prepare for the interviewMake sure that you are clear as to what information you want to obtain. It is important that you are clear as to who you want to speak to, how you will collect the information (recording, notes etc)
Inform the respondent about the reason for your questionsIt is important, and ethically important, to be open and transparent with the interviewee as to why you are wanting to speak to them, and how the information will be used. If recording the interview, it is important that you gain consent. Depending on your organisation’s policies, you may need to obtain written consent.
Recording answersRecording answers can be done through taking notes, audio-recording, or both. One of the constraints to audio-recording is whether the respondent will feel at ease answering questions. Taking notes is generally seen as less threatening, and it also keeps the interviewer involved in the process. Taking notes allows the interviewer to highlight key points to probe further, and also may make the production of the final notes and its evaluation quicker as there is no need to wade through large files of transcripts. If an audio-recording is used, it is important to make sure that it will work, and that transcription software is available.
Develop a rapport with the respondentObtaining meaningful information from a respondent will be easier if they are comfortable opening up to the interviewer. This can be done by asking non-probing questions such as how they are going, commenting on their garden and asking them if they spend much time gardening etc.
Ask questions that lead detailed answers

It is important that you phrase questions in a way that gets respondents to provide detailed answers, rather than simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers.

Examples of questions include:

  • How did you get to find out about this project?
  • What is your involvement in this project? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the project?
  • How has the project changed the way you live?
  • How do you use the new information (or skills) in your day-to-day life?
  • What type of assistance would you like to live more sustainably?
  • What hurdles remain to you being able to take action?
  • How would other people benefit from this project?
  • What other types of projects should be implemented to build on this one?

It is good to have a set of questions at hand, but the interviewer needs to also be prepared to expand or probe on the pre-determined questions as the need arises. This is the essence of qualitative interviews.

When to end an interviewDeciding when to end an interview may depend on a number of factors. For example, the interviewer may feel that they have exhausted their questions, and that they are no longer getting new information, or if the respondent seems tired or has other commitments to attend to. A good practice is for the interviewer to summarise the key points that they feel the respondent has provided, as this provides the respondent with a final chance to expand or clarify any points. It is important to finally thank the respondent for their time, and provide them with the interviewer’s contact details. Depending on circumstances, it may also be worth letting the respondent know how they can obtain the final evaluation report, as this will provide them with a sense of ownership of the material that they have shared.

Analysing and making sense of the data

A data collection and analysis templateis available here.

Ensure that you organise and manage your responses

It is important to have a good data collection and management process in order to be able to store, retrieve and analyse the data. You should consider allocating unique identifiers to the respondents and their transcripts or notes into a spreadsheet. Refer to the data collection and analysis template.

Enter the respondent’s details, and consider developing codes to categorise respondents by demographic or knowledge/attitude traits to help future data analysis.

Identify and interpreting common, recurrent and emergent themesOnce all the interviews have been transcribed or the notes written up, the interviewer can review the data in order to identify common, recurrent, or emergent themes. It is advisable to have a second person also review the transcripts or notes to bring a fresh perspective as this may confirm the themes, lead to new themes, or discussion as to the interpretation of the information. This can also be where you discard information that is not relevant to the questions you need to answer. Identify relevant themes and their codes in the data collection template.
Entering responses and coding the dataEnter the responses into the data collection template. Responses can be entered based on the question number or question identifier. It is best to enter one theme per line to help coding, especially if respondents had both positive and negative responses to a question. In order to analyse the data you have collected, you will need to code the responses based on themes. You may have broad themes (eg. workshops), or sub-categories within themes (eg. workshop speaker, workshop handouts). You may also want to code responses into whether they were positive or negative with regards to the project.
Analysing patterns amongst themesLook to see if there are similar traits between respondents who present the same themes. This can be done by sorting the columns by question number, or by respondent or response codes. For example, you may want to see if there are demographic (age, sex, household size, income etc) or pre-existing knowledge and attitude traits that lead to themes recurring. Analysing patterns allows the evaluation to move from a more descriptive role to an analysing role.
Present your evaluationPresent the results of your analysis by identifying patterns, what this means for the project, and what can be done next to improve or build upon the responses. It is good to add quotes from respondents to support your analysis.

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 14];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.


1.Mack N, Woodsong C, Macqueen KM, Guest G, Namey E. International FH. Qualitative research methods overview. Qualitative Research Methods: A Data Collector's Field Guide. Family Health International, 2005.  
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.  


  [Table 1]

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