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Qualitative Research Methods : In-Depth Interviews

    Qualitative Research Methods

    Typical qualitative methods include behavioral observation, in-depth interviews, focus groups, and social listening. Each of these methods is described below.

    In-Depth Interviews

    Woman dressed like Lois Lane interviewing a man in a Superman costume

    In-depth interviews give marketing researchers the opportunity to delve deeply into topics of interest with the individuals they want to understand better. Research projects that use this method typically involve a fairly small number of these interviews, and they target the precise characteristics of the audiences that researchers want to understand. For example, a pharmaceutical company might want to understand a medical doctor’s reasoning when considering which drugs to prescribe for certain medical conditions. A business software company might want to have a focused discussion with a product “power-user” about the limitations they see in the current product and what improvements they would like to see.

    In-depth interviews are structured around a discussion guide. The interviewer asks questions and then listens carefully to capture responses—and sometimes asks follow-up questions to gain additional clarity and insight. In-depth interviews provide the opportunity to get under the surface and probe for more thoughtful answers and nuanced responses to interviewer questions. Often these interviews help researchers identify the range of questions and responses they should include in a quantitative survey (with more participants). In-depth interviews might also be combined with behavioral observation to get a richer understanding of why people do what they do: “What were you thinking when…?” or, “Why did you do this . . . ?”

    Interview length is an important consideration for in-depth interviews. It is difficult to keep people deeply engaged in a conversation for more than thirty minutes, so both the discussion guide and the interviewer must be very focused on covering key topics in the time allotted.

    A primary disadvantage of in-depth interviews is cost: they tend to be quite expensive because they require not only the time of an experienced interviewer, but also some compensation, or incentives, for interview participants. Exactly how much compensation depends on the audience. To get a busy practicing lawyer to participate in an in-depth interviewer, researchers must offer significantly more money than they might to a flexible (and cash-strapped) college student, for example.

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