Verbal Research Methods and Interviews

The overall objective of verbal research methods is to gain information and insights by talking to research participants. This can range from fully structured interviews that follow a strict schedule to very open-ended conversations.

Traditionally, this type of research has been conducted in the physical presence of others so as to not lose the effect of physical cues and demeanor. However, interviews can also be conducted by phone/skype or online using software such as Zoom or MS Teams. And, for group interviews, chat rooms, instant messaging groups or private FB groups can also work to bring people together. Data from such remote or virtual interviews is less rich than those which are attainable from face-to-face interactions, however, because physical cues are more difficult to observe, and an important aspect of research is lost. These things need to be taken into consideration when designing interview guides and conducting analysis.

Interviews with individuals

Structured interviews

Structured interviews adhere to a strict protocol with set questions in a particular order that cannot be altered. They are best used for interviews with people in authority who often want to see questions beforehand, and generate data that can be compared across interviews. When structured interviews are conducted with large numbers of participants, they become similar to surveys.

Key informant interviews

Key informant interviews are either semi or fully structured interviews with people who are in key positions of knowledge and/or authority, and who are recognized as having expertise in a particular subject. Key informants can provide particularly important insights because of their position, either within an organization or a field.

Life histories

Also known as Oral Histories

Life histories (also called oral histories) are longer interviews with individuals where researchers ask participants to reflect on how their present circumstances have been informed by their life journey up to this point, with a focus on subjective experiences.

Semi-structured interview
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Semi-structured interviews

Semi-structured interviews follow a number of specific questions that can be adjusted by the researcher as the interview unfolds and new insights emerge that can be followed up during the interview.

Open-ended interviews
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Open-ended Interviews

Open-ended (also called unstructured) interviews are completely unstructured and akin to a conversation between researcher and participant, guided by a broad set of questions. They are most appropriate when the researcher only has a vague understanding of an issue or is exploring what it is that they don’t even know yet.

Group interviews

Focus groups

Also known as Focus Groups Discussion or FGD

Focus groups (also called focus groups discussions or FGD) bring together groups of between six and eight carefully selected people, usually from similar backgrounds, for semi-structured group interviews facilitated by a trained researcher. Participants take turns to respond to a particular question and to each others’ responses. Focus groups are good to obtain group knowledge and to observe group dynamics as people talk.

Unfocus groups

Unfocus groups is used in design research, with groups of up to 10 participants gathering for a conversation without a specific question, agenda or topic. Discussions can begin with a prompt and are useful for eliciting completely new insights.

Expert panels

Expert panels usually comprise independent specialists in the area under study. They can be convened as part of research to provide expert opinions and arrive at conclusions and recommendations through consensus.

Focus groups
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World café

World café is a method used for facilitating large group dialogues. It is often organized around small tables where participants move from table to table to answer specific questions. The café ends with a final ‘harvest session’ where insights from all tables are shared with everybody.

Modified interviews

Walk-along interviews

Also known as Go-along Interviews

Walk-along (also called go-along) interviews take place when the researcher and participant walk or travel as they talk. This is particularly useful when wanting to learn about participants’ experiences with a particular location, such as a hospital ward, or a journey, such as getting to the hospital. These interviews can also be visually documented through taking pictures or videos.

Walk-through interview
Image courtesy of Data x Insights

Walk-through interviews

Walk-through interviews happen when researchers ask participants to talk them through a particular scenario, activity or moment in time. Where possible, participants share examples or recreate events, allowing researchers to observe and ask questions at key intervals.

Object-oriented interviews

In Object-oriented interviews participants are asked to supply certain objects to illustrate their points. Alternatively, the process of sorting or handling objects can become the starting point for conversations. This is particularly useful when exploring participants’ reactions to visual artefacts. In design research this can take the form of rapid prototyping, which allows potential users to comment on features of a quick mock-up of a product or service.


Verbal research

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Reflective research

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Gamified research

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Data analysis

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