An unstructured interview is an interview in which questions are not prearranged (although some questions may be prepared in advance), allowing for spontaneity and for questions to develop during the course of the interview. This is considered to be the opposite of a structured interview which offers a set amount of standardized questions. It is a qualitative research method and accordingly prioritises validity and the depth of the interviewees' answers, whilst losing reliability and making it more difficult to draw patterns between interviewees' responses in comparison to structured interviews. Unstructured interviews are used in a variety of fields and circumstances, ranging from research in social sciences, such as sociology, to college and job interviews.
- In an unstructured interview the interviewer is able to discover important information which did not seem relevant before the interview and ask the interviewee to go further into the new topic.
- An unstructured interview allows for the interviewer to build better rapport with the interviewee due to its parallels with a normal conversation. For this reason they are often considered to be better at researching sensitive subjects, such as domestic violence, due to this rapport gaining more honest responses, whereas structured interviews are often considered intimidating due to their formality and can often make the interviewee subject to social desirability bias.
- Unstructured interviews are a lot more time consuming in comparison to other research methods. This is due to their being no set questions and a priority of elaborated answers making it difficult to determine and enforce a set time.
- As a result of the above disadvantage it is difficult to interview a large sample, affecting the data's generalisability and representativeness.
- The data collected in unstructured interviews is also prone to digression and much of the data collected could be worthless.
In 1974, Ann Oakley interviewed women twice before the birth of their children and then twice afterwards. Each woman was interviewed for around nine hours on average. Interestingly, the women also asked her questions during the interviews and Oakley responded as openly and honestly as she wished for them to respond. Oakley wanted the respondents to be collaborators in her research rather than just interviewees causing the women to become increasingly interested in the research and contacting her with any information they thought important after the interviews. This is a prime example of the advantages of rapport and the depth of information even beyond the interview.