Online interview

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An online interview is an online research method in which participants are asked a series of questions aided by the use of computer-mediated communication tools such as instant messaging, email, or video chat technology. Online interviews take many of the methodological practices found in traditional face-to-face (F2F) interviews and either transfers or modifies these practices for an online context. There are different forms of online interviews: synchronous online interviews (for example via online chat) and asynchronous online interviews (for example via email). Online interviews can be conducted in a group setting or on a one-to-one basis, though the method principally focuses on the conduct of one-to-one exchanges as one-to-many exchanges are usually called online focus groups.

Online interviews, like offline interviews, typically ask respondents to explain what they think or how they feel about an aspect of their social world. [1] Interviews are especially useful for understanding the meanings participants assign to their activities; their perspectives, motives, and experiences.[2] Interviews are also useful for eliciting the language used by group members, gathering information about processes that cannot be observed, or inquiring about the past. [1]


While there is a vast body of literature concerned with qualitative interviewing [3] the online approach to interviewing remains a new and innovative research method. Online interviewing has both benefits and drawbacks, which can vary according to the method of communication.


There are many reasons an online interviews can be an appropriate and valuable methodological tool. For example, the use of online interviews as opposed to onsite interviews provides the researcher with opportunities to:

  • Carry out interviews with a very geographically dispersed population.
  • Interview individuals or groups who are often difficult to reach, such as the less physically mobile (disabled/in prison/in hospital) or the socially isolated (drug dealers/terminally ill/ etc.) or those living in dangerous places (e.g. war zones).
  • Carry out interviews in a personal, yet neutral, location such as a home. [4] Researchers and participants can be comfortable while still maintaining their personal space and, if necessary, keep their specific whereabouts private.
  • Reach a target audience where the audience is unknown (e.g. people who may use a certain type of technology) or would like to remain anonymous.
  • Provide savings in costs to the researcher (for example, costs associated with travel and venue hire).
  • Record data quickly and accurately. Video and audio interactions on Skype can be easily captured using desktop software. [4] Data generated from textual forms (e.g. chatrooms, e-mail correspondence) is already transcribed.
  • Reduce the environmental impact of research by eliminating the resource expenditure associated with traveling long distances. [4]


There are, however, possible drawbacks to online interviews. Scholars such as Mann and Stewart (2005) have questioned how effective they are in comparison to face-to-face interviews. [5] Online interviews may make it difficult to:

  • Establish a good rapport and level of trust between researcher and participant in a computer-mediated research relationship.
  • Achieve a long-term commitment to the research subject by participants, if this is necessary.
  • Communicate with participants with varying degrees of technical skill within a population. Participants cannot be assumed to all possess the level of technical competence required to employ the research methods.
  • Achieve satisfactory closure to the research relationship at the end of a long-term project.
  • Maintain attention, as the researcher may not have control over (or even be aware of) distractions that are interrupting the interviewee's engagement with the interview. [6]
  • Recruit participants. In order to access specific populations, there may be a need to 'advertise' through relevant newsgroups and forums.


Online Interviews can utilize a selection of formats and employ varying means of computer-mediated communication (CMC).

In online interviews, data is primarily generated through conversations between a researcher and "respondent." Researchers often seek out a deliberate (or "non-random") selection of respondents, recruiting individuals who are well situated to provide insight on a particular phenomenon, situation, or practice. [1] As a qualitative research method, online interviewing doesn't aim to make generalizable claims to broad populations of people.

Like offline interviews, online interviews can be structured or unstructured; varying in the degree to which they adhere to a pre-written, standardized interview guide. The structuring of interviews allows researchers to compare within and between groups of people, by generating a selection of perspectives on a similar series of topics. However, even the most structured of interviews allow researchers to ask follow-up questions and deviate slightly from protocol to seek elaboration on an interesting point. [2]

Online interviews can also take place informally between researchers and cyber-ethnographic informants. These types of interviews are typically unstructured and spontaneous, allowing informants to guide the conversation by offering stories and additional insights. [1] Unstructured interviews may be especially useful when researchers are trying to understand an unfamiliar setting or phenomenon.

Text based: chatrooms, instant messaging, and e-mail[edit]

Chatrooms, e-mail and instant messaging are CMC technologies based on the exchange of text between the researcher and the participant. Though the question-and-answer format of the interview is similar to face-to-face interviews, during text-based interviews participants and researchers are not visible to one another. This can make it difficult to assess how questions and responses are being interpreted on either side due to a lack of visual cues. [7] However, some level of visual anonymity may also encourage participants to engage in more self-disclosure or feel liberated from stereotypes that may be associated with visible identity markers such as age, race or gender. [2] Because the participant cannot see the researcher, this may also help reduce issues of interviewer effect.

Internet researcher Annette Markham (1998) observes that text-based interviewing can take much longer than face-to-face, phone or Skype interviews because typing takes longer than talking. Textual methods require users to verbalize conventional aspects of polite conversation, such as nodding or smiling, which requires added effort and time. [7] The extended time frame can also be a benefit: allowing researchers more time to think of evocative or precise follow-up questions. Researchers can reread the chat history and use previous responses to inform the subsequent questions.

E-mail and instant messaging interview methods have the advantage of privacy. [2] Interviews that take place in public online venues (e.g. discussion boards, chatrooms) may be off-putting to some participants.[6]

Asynchronous online interviews[edit]

An asynchronous online interview takes place when the researcher and the participant do not need to be online at the same time. This can be an advantage for research conducted across time zones or with busy participants, allowing them to answer questions at their convenience. [1] Asynchronous online interviews eliminate the need to schedule the interview as the interviewers and interviewees do not need to be online at the same time. Typically these interviews will use email but other technologies might also be employed. A concern related to the asynchronous method is the possibility of interviews gradually drying up over an extended period. While the possibility of long term "longitudinal" research is valuable, it is also risky. Completion requires high levels of participant motivation, since they have not dedicated a specific block of time. [2] Additionally, asynchronous online interviews may feel less conversational and make it more difficult to ask follow-up questions. Rezabek (2000) describes this as a "lack of timeliness". [8]

Video chat: Skype, etc.[edit]

The use of Skype and other video-chat technology overcomes many of the challenges present in alternate modes of conducting online interviews. Skype interviews allow participants and researchers to converse in real time and makes it possible to see facial expressions and other visual cues that are absent in textually based forms such as e-mail, chatrooms. [4]

Online vs. telephone interviews[edit]

When selecting a research method it may be helpful to evaluate the relative merits of online interviews to telephone interviews. Telephones allow participants to give and receive verbal cues and it is easier for the interviewer to bring the participant back 'on topic'. Research by Carr and Worth (2001) also suggests that "studies which directly compare telephone and face-to-face interviewing tend to conclude that telephone interviewing produces data which are at least comparable in quality to those attained by the face-to-face method." [9] Alternately, online interviews maintain the affordances listed previously, while also coming at no additional cost to the participant. Interviews taking place over Skype (both in audio and video forms) may include all the benefits of phone conversation and be cheaper than international calling.


  1. ^ a b c d e Lindlof, Thomas; Taylor, Bryan (2002). Qualitative communication research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Stromer-Galley, Jennifer (2003). "Depth Interviews for the Study of Motives and Perceptions of Internet Use". Presented at the International Communication Association Conference (San Diego, CA). 
  3. ^ Becker and Bryman 2004; Burgess 1984; Flick 2002; May 2001
  4. ^ a b c d Hanna, P. (5 April 2012). "Using internet technologies (such as Skype) as a research medium: a research note". Qualitative Research 12 (2): 239–242. doi:10.1177/1468794111426607. 
  5. ^ Mann and Stewart (2005)Internet Communication and Qualitative Research: A Handbook for Researching Online London: Sage
  6. ^ a b Illingworth, Nicola (31 August 2001). "The Internet Matters: Exploring the Use of the Internet as a Research Tool". Sociological Research Online. Retrieved 11 February 2009. 
  7. ^ a b Markham, Annette (1998). Life online: researching real experience in virtual space. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press. pp. 61–83. 
  8. ^ Rezabek, Roger (2000, January). Online focus groups: Electronic discussions for research [67 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research [online journal], 1(1).
  9. ^ Eloise C.J. Carr, Allison Worth. The use of the telephone interview for research. Nursing Times Research, Vol. 6, No. 1, 511-524 (2001)