Structured Interview | Definition, Guide & Examples

A structured interview is a data collection method that relies on asking questions in a set order to collect data on a topic. It is one of four types of interviews.

In research, structured interviews are often quantitative in nature. They can also be used in qualitative research if the questions are open-ended, but this is less common.

While structured interviews are often associated with job interviews, they are also common in marketing, social science, survey methodology, and other research fields.

Note: Structured interviews differ from other types of interviews because the questions are predetermined in both topic and order. The other three most common types of interviews are:

What is a structured interview?

Structured interviews are the most systematised type of interview. In contrast to semi-structured or unstructured interviews, the interviewer uses predetermined questions in a set order.

Structured interviews are often closed-ended. They can be dichotomous, which means asking participants to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to each question, or multiple-choice. While open-ended structured interviews do exist, they are less common.

Asking set questions in a set order allows you to easily compare responses between participants in a uniform context. This can help you see patterns and highlight areas for further research, and it can be a useful explanatory or exploratory research tool.

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When to use a structured interview

Structured interviews are best used when:

  • You already have a very clear understanding of your topic, so you possess a baseline for designing strong structured questions
  • You are constrained in terms of time or resources and need to analyse your data efficiently
  • Your research question depends on strong parity between participants, with environmental conditions held constant

A structured interview is straightforward to conduct and analyse. Asking the same set of questions mitigates potential biases and leads to fewer ambiguities in analysis. It is an undertaking you can likely handle as an individual, provided you remain organised.

Note: Designing structured research questions can be difficult. It is best if you have a very strong understanding of your topic, or if there is a robust body of literature available.
Many professional structured interview questions even go through a pilot phase to catch any potential issues before they are presented to respondents.

Differences between different types of interviews

Make sure to choose the type of interview that suits your research best. This table shows the most important differences between the four types.

Structured interview Semi-structured interview Unstructured interview Focus group
Fixed questions
Fixed order of questions
Fixed number of questions
Option to ask additional questions

Advantages of structured interviews

  • Reduced bias

    The fixed nature of structured interviews reduces context effects and other biases. Asking the same questions in the same order to all participants minimises the risk of introducing research bias via the order or nature of questions asked, or via any environmental factors.

  • Increased credibility, reliability, and validity

    Due to their carefully predetermined nature, structured interviews are thought to be more credible than other types of interviews. All participants are presented with the same (closed-ended or multiple-choice) questions in the same order, which makes it easier to compare the answers. This contributes to their reliability and validity.

  • Simple, cost-effective, and efficient

    While similar to questionnaires and surveys, structured interviews introduce more nuance and richness to the topic being studied without representing too much more work for the interviewer. Relatedly, there is less preparation needed for the interviewee, so the process is also less time-consuming on their end.

Disadvantages of structured interviews

  • Formal in nature

    The rigidity of structured interviews means that there is very little opportunity to build rapport between the interviewer and the participant. The perceived formality of structured interviews can cause participants to feel uncomfortable or nervous, which can affect their answers.

  • Limited flexibility

    Once the questions are selected, they cannot be altered or removed without damaging the quality of the data. Even if a question is poorly worded, superfluous, or unnecessary, it still has to be presented to all respondents.

  • Limited scope

    Since most structured interviews are closed-ended, their scope is limited. Participants cannot go into much detail with their answers, and there is little room for nuance. If a participant doesn’t truly identify with any of the binary or multiple-choice answers, it can be difficult to know how much their answer reflects their true feelings.

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Structured interview questions

It can be difficult to write structured interview questions that approximate exactly what you are seeking to measure. Here are a few tips for writing questions that contribute to high internal validity:

  • Define exactly what you want to discover prior to drafting your questions. This will help you write questions that really zero in on participant responses.
  • Avoid jargon, compound sentences, and complicated constructions.
  • Be as clear and concise as possible, so that participants can answer your question immediately.
Example: Structured interview questions
  • Do you think that employers should provide free gym memberships?
  • Did any of your previous employers provide free memberships?
  • Does your current employer provide a free membership?
  • How often per week do you go to the gym?
    • a) 1 time; b) 2 times; c) 3 times; d) 4 or more times
  • Do you enjoy going to the gym?

How to conduct a structured interview

Structured interviews are among the most straightforward research methods to conduct and analyse. Once you’ve determined that they’re the right fit for your research topic, you can proceed with the following steps.

Step 1: Set your goals and objectives

Start by brainstorming some guiding questions to help you conceptualise your research question, such as:

  • What are you trying to learn or achieve from a structured interview?
  • Why are you choosing a structured interview as opposed to a different type of interview, or another research method?

If you have satisfying reasoning for proceeding with a structured interview, you can move on to designing your questions.

Step 2: Design your questions

Pay special attention to the order and wording of your structured interview questions. Remember that in a structured interview they must remain the same. Stick to closed-ended or very simple open-ended questions.

Step 3: Assemble your participants

Depending on your topic, there are a few sampling methods you can use, such as:

  • Voluntary response sampling: For example, posting a flyer on campus and finding participants based on responses
  • Convenience sampling of those who are most readily accessible to you, such as fellow students at your university
  • Stratified sampling of a particular age, race, ethnicity, gender identity, or other characteristic of interest to you
  • Judgement sampling of a specific set of participants that you already know you want to include
Note: Regardless of which method you choose, be careful of sampling bias. This type of bias occurs when some members of a population are systematically more likely to be included in a sample than others.

Step 4: Decide on your medium

Determine whether you will be conducting your interviews in person or whether your interview will take pen-and-paper format. If conducted live, you need to decide if you prefer to talk with participants in person, over the phone, or via video conferencing.

Note: Be sure that you receive informed consent in a written format from each participant prior to starting each interview. This includes consent to video- or audio-record them, a confidentiality agreement, and an agreement to anonymise or pseudonymise data.

Step 5: Conduct your interviews

As you conduct your interviews, be very careful that all conditions remain as constant as possible.

  • Ask your questions in the same order, and try to moderate your tone of voice and any responses to participants as much as you can.
  • Pay special attention to your body language (e.g., nodding, raising eyebrows), as this can bias responses.
Be sure to keep your responses organised to avoid any data errors.

How to analyse a structured interview

After you’re finished conducting your interviews, it’s time to analyse your results.

Transcribing interviews

If you have audio-recorded your interviews, you will likely have to transcribe them prior to conducting your analysis. In some cases, your supervisor might ask you to add the transcriptions in the appendix of your paper.

First, you will have to decide whether to conduct verbatim transcription or intelligent verbatim transcription. Do pauses, laughter, or filler words like ‘umm’ or ‘like’ affect your analysis and research conclusions?

  • If so, conduct verbatim transcription and include them.
  • If not, conduct intelligent verbatim transcription, which excludes fillers and fixes any grammar issues, and is often easier to analyse.
If you’re a fast typer, consider increasing the speed to 1.25 or 1.5, to speed up the transcription process. Alternatively, you can also use transcription software if your research budget allows it. In that case, you should certainly double-check the transcriptions.

The transcription process is a great opportunity for you to clean your data as well, spotting and resolving any inconsistencies or errors that come up as you listen.

Coding and analysing structured interviews

After transcribing, it’s time to conduct your thematic or content analysis. This often involves ‘coding’ words, patterns, or themes, separating them into categories for more robust analysis.

Due to the closed-ended nature of many structured interviews, you will most likely be conducting content analysis, rather than thematic analysis.

  • You quantify the categories you chose in the coding stage by counting the occurrence of the words, phrases, subjects, or concepts you selected.
  • After coding, you can organise and summarise the data using descriptive statistics.
  • Next, inferential statistics allows you to come to conclusions about your hypotheses and make predictions for future research. 
Note: Be careful with sampling error in inferential statistics, especially with a small sample size.

When conducting content analysis, you can take an inductive or a deductive approach. With an inductive approach, you allow the data to determine your themes. A deductive approach is the opposite: it involves investigating whether your data confirm preconceived themes or ideas.

Content analysis has a systematic procedure that can easily be replicated, yielding high reliability to your results. However, keep in mind that while this approach reduces bias, it doesn’t eliminate it. Be vigilant about remaining objective here, even if your analysis does not confirm your hypotheses.

Presenting your results

After your data analysis, the next step is to combine your findings into a research paper.

  • Your methodology section describes how you collected the data (in this case, describing your structured interview process) and explains how you justify or conceptualise your analysis.
  • Your discussion and results sections usually address each of your coded categories, describing each in turn, as well as how often they occurred.

If you conducted inferential statistics in addition to descriptive statistics, you would generally report the test statistic, p value, and effect size in your results section. These values explain whether your results justify rejecting your null hypothesis and whether the result is practically significant.

You can then conclude with the main takeaways and avenues for further research.

Example of interview methodology for a research paper

Let’s say you are interested in healthcare on your campus. You study abroad in the US with a lot of international students, and you think there may be a difference in perceptions based on country of origin.

Specifically, you hypothesise that students coming from countries with single-payer or socialised healthcare will find US options less satisfying.

There is a large body of research available on this topic, so you decide to conduct structured interviews of your peers to see if there’s a difference between international students and local students.

You are a member of a large campus club that brings together international students and local students, and you send a message to the club to ask for volunteers.

Here are some questions you could ask:

  • Do you find healthcare options on campus to be: excellent; good; fair; average; poor?
  • Does your home country have socialised healthcare? Yes/No
  • Are you on the campus healthcare plan? Yes/No
  • Have you ever worried about your health insurance? Yes/No
  • Have you ever had a serious health condition that insurance did not cover? Yes/No
  • Have you ever been surprised or shocked by a medical bill? Yes/No

After conducting your interviews and transcribing your data, you can then conduct content analysis, coding responses into different categories. Since you began your research with the theory that international students may find US healthcare lacking, you would use the deductive approach to see if your hypotheses seem to hold true.

Frequently asked questions about structured interviews

When should you use a structured interview?

A structured interview is a data collection method that relies on asking questions in a set order to collect data on a topic. They are often quantitative in nature. Structured interviews are best used when:

  • You already have a very clear understanding of your topic. Perhaps significant research has already been conducted, or you have done some prior research yourself, but you already possess a baseline for designing strong structured questions.
  • You are constrained in terms of time or resources and need to analyse your data quickly and efficiently
  • Your research question depends on strong parity between participants, with environmental conditions held constant

More flexible interview options include semi-structured interviews, unstructured interviews, and focus groups.

What are the four main types of interviews?

The four most common types of interviews are:

What is an interviewer effect?

The interviewer effect is a type of bias that emerges when a characteristic of an interviewer (race, age, gender identity, etc.) influences the responses given by the interviewee.

There is a risk of an interviewer effect in all types of interviews, but it can be mitigated by writing really high-quality interview questions.

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Tegan George

Tegan is an American based in Amsterdam, with master's degrees in political science and education administration. While she is definitely a political scientist at heart, her experience working at universities led to a passion for making social science topics more approachable and exciting to students.