In-Depth Interview

“I interview because I am interested in other people’s stories…stories are a way of knowing….Every word that people use in telling their stories is a microcosm of their consciousness….The subjects of inquiry in the social sciences can talk and think. Unlike a star, or a chemical, or a lever…if given a chance to talk freely, people appear to know a lot about what is going on….At the very heart of what it means to be human is the ability of people to symbolize their experiences through language. To understand human behavior means to understand the use of language….A basic assumption in in-depth interviewing research is that the meaning people make of their experience affects the way they carry out the experience….The purpose of in-depth interviewing is not to get answers to questions, nor to test hypotheses, and not to evaluate….At the root of in-depth interviewing is an interest in understanding the experience of other people and the meaning they make of that experience.”

A Phenomenological Approach to In-Depth Interviewing
(developed by David Schuman)

The goal is to have the participant reconstruct his or her experience within the topic under study. Schuman recommends three separate interviews. (McCracken recommends something very different– one long interview).

  • Interview One: Focused Life History
    DO: How did you become a mentor?
    DON’T: Why did you become a mentor?
  • Interview Two: The Details of Experience
    DO: Describe what you do as a mentor?
    DON’T: What do you think about being a mentor?
  • Interview Three: Reflection on the Meaning
    Given what you have said about your life before you became a mentor and given what you have said about your work now, how do you understand mentoring in your life? What sense does it make to you?

Some Guidelines and Suggestions for Interviewing

  • listen more, talk less
  • follow up on what the participant says
  • ask questions when you don’t understand
  • ask to hear more about a subject
  • explore rather than probe
  • listen more, talk less, and ask real questions
  • avoid leading questions
  • ask open-ended questions
  • follow up, don’t interrupt
  • ask participants to talk to you as if you were someone else
  • ask participants to tell a story
  • keep participants focused, and ask for details
  • do not take the ebbs and flows of interviewing too personally
  • share experiences on occasion
  • ask participants to reconstruct, not to remember
  • avoid reinforcing your participants’ responses
  • explore laughter
  • follow your hunches
  • use an interview guide carefully
  • tolerate silence

Remember that you need written permission from the individual you are interviewing and interviewees have certain rights

  • Participation in the interview is entirely voluntary.
  • They are free to refuse to answer any question at any time.
  • They are free to withdraw from the interview at any time.
  • The interview will be kept strictly confidential and will be available only to members of the research team and identities will not be revealed to members of the research team.
  • Excerpts of the interview may be part of the final research report, but under no circumstances will names or identifying characteristics be included in the report.

Seidman, I. E. (1991). Interviewing as qualitative research: A guide for researchers in education and the social sciences. New York: Teachers College Press.


Del Siegle, PhD