The structured interview, also known as the formal or questionnaire interview, involves a face-to-face or alternatively an over-the-phone delivery of a questionnaire. Structured interviews use a pre-set list of questions designed by the researcher and asked to all interviewees in the same way, this is know as an interview schedule. Interviewees then choose from a list of set answers, allowing structured interviews to be relatively quick. Structured interviews have various advantages, therefore, some sociologists, mainly Positivist sociologists, choose to use structured interviews when conducting research.
Positivists go by the assumption that there is a measurable objective social reality. They take a scientific approach using methods such as structured interviews to obtain quantitative data. Positivists are mainly interested in research methods that achieve their main goals of reliability, generalisability and representativeness, for this reason, they favour structured interviews as they achieve these goals. This is because structured interviews have close-ended questions and answers that are standardised, counted and quantified; they are reliable because they can be therefore replicated.
Positivist sociologists also prefer to use structured interviews when conducting research because the pre-coded responses mean that produce quantitative data, can allow cause-and-effect relationships can be established. Thus, structured interviews are preferred by positivists.
Also, structured interviews are representative and can therefore be generalised, because of the fact that they are often large-scale. There are also practical advantages to using structured interviews. For an example, training interviewers is relatively easy and inexpensive as no specialist skills have to be taught as the questions tend to be very straightforward as they often close-ended, and do not require too much thought.
Due to the fact that skills taught are minimal, the process of training interviewers will not cost too much. This brings a huge practical advantage for sociologists of structured interviews being low cost.
Another practical advantage is that structured interviews are relatively cheap, quick and easy to administer. This enables sociologists to use a larger sample in the interview process, allowing more representative results to be produced. Therefore, the researcher can make generalisations. No only this, but structured interviews have a higher response rate, than mailed questionnaires for example, further improving and reinforcing the representative advantage of structured interviews.
Furthermore, face to face interviews ensure a much higher response rate than mailed questionnaires for example, due to the fact that the researcher’s presence means that the research purpose and importance can be explained to potential interviewees, allowing them to understand how valuable it is that their response is correct and true, thus increasing validity- an important advantage for sociologists.
Finally interviewer effect occurs when the interviewer’s presence affects the interviewee’s responses, in turn reducing validity. However, the advantage with structured interviews is that the interviewer effect with be much less than with unstructured, open-ended unstructured interviews. This is due to the fact that in structured interviews contact is restricted to asking and responding fixed list of questions and close-ended answers.
All points considered there are a number of advantages for sociologists in using structured interviews in their research. However, in saying this, it can also be argued that there are a also number of disadvantages. For example, it can be said that there is a lack of validity as the researcher decides the questions in advance, a lack of reliability as interviewer effect may influence answers, a cost issue due to training and ignorance towards sensitive issues as deadpan manner may be quite off-putting and there is a lack of rapport.
In my opinion, it all depends on whether you are a positivist or an interpretivist. Yes, there are some disadvantages, but I believe that these disadvantages are extremely outweighed by number of advantages that exist for sociologists in using structured interviews in their research.