develop a  research proposal

Develop a Research Proposal


Writing the Proposal - Data Collection Interviews


Interviewing is a technique that is primarily used to gain an understanding of the underlying reasons and motivations for people’s attitudes, preferences or behavior. Interviews can be undertaken on a personal one-to-one basis or in a group. They can be conducted at work, at home, in the street or in a shopping center, or some other agreed location.

Personal interview


  • Serious approach by respondent resulting in accurate information.
  • Good response rate.
  • Completed and immediate.
  • Possible in-depth questions.
  • Interviewer in control and can give help if there is a problem.
  • Can investigate motives and feelings.
  • Can use recording equipment.
  • Characteristics of respondent assessed – tone of voice, facial expression, hesitation, etc.
  • Can use props.
  • If one interviewer used, uniformity of approach.
  • Used to pilot other methods.


  • Need to set up interviews.
  • Time consuming.
  • Geographic limitations.
  • Can be expensive.
  • Normally need a set of questions.
  • Respondent bias – tendency to please or impress, create false personal image, or end interview quickly.
  • Embarrassment possible if personal questions.
  • Transcription and analysis can present problems – subjectivity.
  • If many interviewers, training required.

Types of interview


  • Based on a carefully worded interview schedule.
  • Frequently require short answers with the answers being ticked off.
  • Useful when there are a lot of questions which are not particularly contentious or thought provoking.
  • Respondent may become irritated by having to give over-simplified answers.


The interview is focused by asking certain questions but with scope for the respondent to express him or herself at length.


This also called an in-depth interview. The interviewer begins by asking a general question. The interviewer then encourages the respondent to talk freely. The interviewer uses an unstructured format, the subsequent direction of the interview being determined by the respondent’s initial reply. The interviewer then probes for elaboration – ‘Why do you say that?’ or, ‘That’s interesting, tell me more’ or, ‘Would you like to add anything else?’ being typical probes.

The following section is a step-by-step guide to conducting an interview. You should remember that all situations are different and therefore you may need refinements to the approach.

Planning an interview:

  • List the areas in which you require information.
  • Decide on type of interview.
  • Transform areas into actual questions.
  • Try them out on a friend or relative.
  • Make an appointment with respondent(s) – discussing details of why and how long.
  • Try and fix a venue and time when you will not be disturbed.

Conducting an interview:

  Personally

arrive on time

be smart, smile

employ good manners

find a balance between friendliness and objectivity.

  At the start

introduce yourself

re-confirm the purpose

assure confidentiality

if relevant specify what will happen to the data.

  The questions

speak slowly in a soft, yet audible tone of voice

control your body language

know the questions and topic

ask all the questions.

  Responses

recorded as you go on questionnaire written verbatim, but slow and time-consuming summarized by you

if taped – agree beforehand – have alternative method if not acceptable consider effect on respondent’s answers

proper equipment in good working order

sufficient tapes and batteries minimum of background noise.

  At the end

ask if the respondent would like to give further details about anything or has any questions about the research

thank them.

Telephone interview

This is an alternative form of interview to the personal, face-to-face interview.


  • Relatively cheap.
  • Quick.
  • Can cover reasonably large numbers of people or organizations.
  • Wide geographic coverage.
  • High response rate – keep going till the required number.
  • No waiting.
  • Spontaneous response.
  • Help can be given to the respondent.
  • Can tape answers.


  • Often connected with selling.
  • Questionnaire required.
  • Not everyone has a telephone.
  • Repeat calls are inevitable – average 2.5 calls to get someone.
  • Time is wasted.
  • Straightforward questions are required.
  • Respondent has little time to think.
  • Cannot use visual aids.
  • Can cause irritation.
  • Good telephone manner is required.
  • Question of authority.

Getting started

  • Locate the respondent:
    • Repeat calls may be necessary especially if you are trying to contact people in organizations where you may have to go through secretaries.
    • You may not know an individual’s name or title – so there is the possibility of interviewing the wrong person.
    • You can send an advance letter informing the respondent that you will be telephoning. This can explain the purpose of the research.
  • Getting them to agree to take part:
    • You need to state concisely the purpose of the call – scripted and similar to the introductory letter of a postal questionnaire.
    • Respondents will normally listen to this introduction before they decide to co-operate or refuse.
    • When contact is made respondents may have questions or raise objections about why they could not participate. You should be prepared for these.

Ensuring quality

  • Quality of questionnaire – follows the principles of questionnaire design. However, it must be easy to move through as you cannot have long silences on the telephone.
  • Ability of interviewer – follows the principles of face-to-face interviewing.

Smooth implementation

  • Interview schedule – each interview schedule should have a cover page with number, name and address. The cover sheet should make provision to record which call it is, the date and time, the interviewer, the outcome of the call and space to note down specific times at which a call-back has been arranged. Space should be provided to record the final outcome of the call – was an interview refused, contact never made, number disconnected, etc.
  • Procedure for call-backs – a system for call-backs needs to be implemented. Interview schedules should be sorted according to their status: weekday call-back, evening call-back, weekend call-back, specific time call-back.

Comparison of postal, telephone and personal interview surveys

The table below compares the three common methods of postal, telephone and interview surveys – it might help you to decide which one to use.


Postal survey

Telephone survey

Personal interview

Cost (assuming a good response rate)

Often lowest

Usually in-between

Usually highest

Ability to probe

No personal contact or observation

Some chance for gathering additional data through elaboration on questions, but no personal observation

Greatest opportunity for observation, building rapport, and additional probing

Respondent ability to complete at own convenience


Perhaps, but usually no

Perhaps, if interview time is prearranged with respondent

Interview bias

No chance

Some, perhaps due to voice inflection

Greatest chance

Ability to decide who actually responds to the questions






Some due to lack of face-to-face contact


Complex questions

Least suitable

Somewhat suitable

More suitable

Visual aids

Little opportunity

No opportunity

Greatest opportunity

Potential negative respondent reaction

‘Junk mail’

‘Junk calls’

Invasion of privacy

Interviewer control over interview environment


Some in selection of time to call


Time lag between soliciting and receiving response



May be considerable if a large area involved

Suitable types of questions

Simple, mostly dichotomous (yes/no) and multiple choice

Some opportunity for open-ended questions especially if interview is recorded

Greatest opportunity for open-ended questions

Requirement for technical skills in conducting interview




Response rate


Usually high


Focus group interviews

A focus group is an interview conducted by a trained moderator in a non-structured and natural manner with a small group of respondents. The moderator leads the discussion. The main purpose of focus groups is to gain insights by listening to a group of people from the appropriate target market talk about specific issues of interest.  More on focus groups can be found here.

Collecting and organizing data

The means of collecting and recording data through interviews and the possible pitfalls are well documented elsewhere but in terms of subsequent analysis, it is essential that you have a complete and accurate record of what was said. Do not rely on your memory (it can be very selective!) and either tape record the conversation (preferably) or take copious notes. If you are taking notes, write them up straight after the interview so that you can elaborate and clarify. If you are using a tape recorder, transcribe the exact words onto paper.

However you record the data, you should end up with a hard copy of either exactly what was said (transcript of tape recording) or nearly exactly what was said (comprehensive notes). It may be that parts of the interview are irrelevant or are more in the nature of background material, in which case you need not put these into your transcript but do make sure that they are indeed unnecessary. You should indicate omissions in the text with short statements. 

You should transcribe exactly what is said, with grammatical errors and so on. It does not look very authentic if all your respondents speak with perfect grammar and English! You may also want to indicate other things that happen such as laughter.

Each transcript or set of notes should be clearly marked with the name of the interviewee, the date and place and any other relevant details and, where appropriate, cross-referenced to clearly labeled tapes. These transcripts and notes are not normally required to be included in your dissertation but they should be available to show your supervisor and the second marker if required.

You may wonder why you should go to all the bother of transcribing your audiotapes. It is certainly a time-consuming business, although much easier if you can get access to a transcription machine that enables you to start and stop the tape with your feet while carrying on typing. It is even easier if you have access to an audio-typist who will do this labor intensive part for you. The advantage of having the interviews etc in hard copy is that you can refer to them very quickly, make notes in the margins, reorganize them for analysis, make coding notations in the margins and so on. It is much slower in the long run to have to continually listen to the tapes. You can read much faster than the tape will play! It also has the advantage, especially if you do the transcription yourself, of ensuring that you are very familiar with the material.

Return to Data Collecting Tools