In-depth Interviews

A Lesson in Guide Development: Part 1

Developing a guide for an in-depth interview (IDI) or focus group discussion requires careful consideration of the research objectives and the constructs under investigation. Many articles in Research Design Review discuss guide development, including Interview & Discussion Guide Development: A 4-Stage Funnel Approach” and “Guide Development & the Integrity of Qualitative Research Data.”

An important way to teach and learn best practices in guide development is to examine how other researchers have constructed their guides. Unfortunately, access to others’ IDI or focus group guides is limited due to the fact that many of the qualitative studies published in the literature do not include the guide used in the research.

One exception is a focus group study published a few years ago concerning the dietary behaviors among community residents. The primary questions asked in these discussions are included in the Appendix of the published article. These questions and the order in which they were asked (see below) offer a case for discussing quality guide development. For the sake anonymity, slight modifications have been made to the study details (i.e., “fish” replaces the actual food type under investigation and the segment of community residents who participated is not revealed).

Take a look at this basic guide structure (i.e., the primary questions minus the probing questions) and think about how, if at all, you would change the design of the questions and/or the order in which the questions are asked. As you do so, keep in mind the stated research objective. Part 2 of the discussion here in RDR will propose an alternative solution to this guide.

Guide Development Example


In-depth Interview Method: Strengths & Limitations of 4 Modes

The following image highlights the primary strengths and limitations of four modes that are used in the in-depth interview (IDI) method — face-to-face (either in-person or online), phone, email, and mobile (when conducting in-the-moment research, e.g., when using a product or experiencing an event). A complete discussion concerning these modes in the IDI method can be found on pages 57-70 in Applied Qualitative Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015). [Note: Click image to enlarge]

IDI mode comparisons

Towards a Credible In-depth Interview: Building Rapport

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 88-89).

IDI RapportNot unlike the discussion in “Building Rapport & Engagement in the Focus Group Method,” a necessary skill of the in-depth interviewer is the ability to build rapport with the interviewee. Rapport building begins early in the study design and continues through completion of the in-depth interview (IDI). The following are just a few guidelines that IDI interviewers should consider using in order to establish a trusting relationship with their interviewees and maximize the credibility of their outcomes:

  • Regardless of the mode by which the IDIs will be conducted, the interviewer should contact each recruited interviewee on the telephone at least once prior to the scheduled interview to begin establishing rapport. This preliminary conversation helps the interviewer and the interviewee make a personal connection, manage their respective expectations, and facilitate an open dialogue at the interview stage. In addition to building rapport, an early personal exchange with the interviewee also instills legitimacy in the research, which further aids in the interview process and makes the interviewee comfortable in providing detailed, thoughtful, and credible data.
  • The interviewer’s preliminary communication with the interviewee should make clear (a) the purpose of the study and the interviewer’s association with the research; (b) the anticipated length of the study (i.e., a date when the research is expected to be completed); (c) the breadth of the interview (i.e., the range of topics that will be covered); (d) the depth of the interview (i.e., the level of detail that may be requested, either directly or indirectly); (e) the time commitment required of the interviewee (e.g., length of a telephone IDI, the frequency participants are expected to check email messages in an email IDI study); and (f) the material incentive (e.g., cash, a gift card).
  • The interviewer should make a conscious effort to interject a sign of sincere interest in the interviewee’s remarks, but do so in a nonevaluative fashion, without displaying either approval or disapproval with the sentiment being expressed by the interviewee (e.g., “Your comments interest me, please go on”).
  • Particularly in the telephone and online modes, the interviewer must be able to identify and respond to cues in the conversation—for example, the interviewee’s audible hesitations or the background noise in a telephone IDI, or nonresponse from an email participant. The email interviewer also needs to be sensitive to the idea that they may have misjudged the participant’s intent. For instance, Bowker and Tuffin (2004) report on the potential difficulty in judging whether an email IDI participant has more to say on a topic or whether certain questions would be deemed redundant. In either case, these potential miscalculations on the part of the interviewer can interfere with the interviewer–participant relationship, with interview participants providing short retorts, such as, “Yes, that was the end [of my comments]!” (Bowker & Tuffin, 2004, p. 237).
  • With telephone IDIs, the interviewer–interviewee relationship can be enhanced by adding a webcam and/or an online component. The ability to see the interviewee and/or present stimuli to them (e.g., new program service features, promotional concepts, audio and video clips) during the interview takes advantage of the benefits of face-to-face contact.


Bowker, N., & Tuffin, K. (2004). Using the online medium for discursive research about people with disabilities. Social Science Computer Review, 22(2), 228–241.

Roller, M. R., & Lavrakas, P. J. (2015). Applied qualitative research design: A total quality framework approach. New York: Guilford Press.


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