Calculating the time it will take to do semi-structured the interviews

Semi structured interviews

Before an organization initiates a research project they must first develop a project plan. Implicit within such a plan is calculating the time it will take to do the semi-structured interviews. The details of how this can be done can be found in the video and article below.

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Let’s start by thinking about the interviewing process.  All interviews must start with an introduction and provide the participant with the opportunity to review the Participant Information Sheet and sign the informed consent form. This could take between 10 and 15 minutes. Before I talk about the actual interview process, I want to mention the end process. It is good practice to finish the interview by just summing up what had happened and giving the participant the opportunity to ask you any questions. This could take between 5 and 10 minutes. The reason why I mention this is because you have now consumed somewhere between 15 and 25 minutes and you have not asked any key questions yet. The overall process is going to be somewhere between 45 minutes and 1.5 hours, in some exceptional circumstances it could go up to 2 hours (this should be rare). It also means that you need to set up the environment so that both interviewer and participant are comfortable (i.e., include water and some food maybe). To mitigate this you could send the participant information sheet to the targeted individual beforehand, but you still need to give a brief summary and confirm they are happy to proceed. You should also test all your recording equipment beforehand.

In terms of the actual questions, you seek to answer you should plan it so that it lasts somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour. You must also understand that for every hour you spend recording an interview, it will take you between 3 and 4 hours to transcribe (do not include the introduction and ending summary). If you spent 30 minutes, interviewing 20 people (that’s 30 minutes for each person), then you should plan to spend about 40 hours transcribing. Obviously, if you are a touch typist then you could be quicker, but in my experience, this is how long most researchers would spend when undertaking such a process (if done correctly). Later on, I will spend some time talking about some of the tools you can use to help you quicken the process.

As a guide I encourage my undergraduate students to have a set of semi-structured interviews that lasts for 30 minutes, Masters students should consider somewhere between 30 and 45 minutes, PhD and commercial research between 45 minutes to an hour. Although this is just a guide and it will depend on the context of the research and the depth of your research objectives. This time frame is important to know because you need to give the participant an indication of how long the process will be. It will also help you decide how many questions you should be asking. Let’s say you had 10 questions, each question would take somewhere between 1 and 3 minutes to ask and receive the answer, so the cumulative process would be between 10 and 30 minutes or 20 minutes on average. Now, remember, you are embarking on a semi-structured interviewing process, which means that you should be delving deeper into each question I ask. For planning purposes, I recommend supplementing each question with 2 or 3 unscripted questions. They could be something like, “Oh, that is really interesting, could expand on that a bit…” or “I don’t fully understand what you mean there, could you elaborate a bit more please…”. The process of semi-structured interviewing is all about gaining a deeper insight into a phenomenon so you have to do a “lot of digging” to really understand what is going on. The interviewing process is a skill and you need to be aware of the time and your objectives. Sometimes you may even abandon the questions and follow a different track.

So, how do you decide on what questions to ask? There are a number of techniques you can employ, including using pictures and photos. I will start with the process of how to create a list of questions for your semi-structured interviewing process. Before starting this, you must decide if your research is deductive (i.e., testing theory) or inductive (i.e., developing theory). Oh, and yes, qualitative research can be deductive, in this instance, you would use the theoretical model as the framework for building your questions. We will cover this in the next blog.


Click here for your free checklist on developing semi-structured questions.


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Dr Alan Shaw is a Senior Lecturer and Marketing consultant focusing on a range of sectors. His main interests are in strategy development, social marketing, digital marketing, advertising, consumer behaviour and marketing application.
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