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Semistructured Interview: Simple Definition

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A semistructured interview is a way of research which allows room for new information and insights to be incorporated as the interview is run.

While structured interviews are based on a well-defined set of questions that are settled beforehand, semistructured interviews work from only a general framework of themes. A number of questions may be determined beforehand, especially initial questions, but freedom is left for deviation—within limits. The interviewer is expected to formulate most questions on the fly, based on the interviewees responses, and has the freedom to follow relevant tangents and ideas as they come up throughout the interview.

A semi-structured interview is more structured than an open interview, in which the interviewee is expected to chat about whichever topic interests him, but it still gives a fair degree of freedom and allows the interviewee to take the initiative to a degree.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Semistructured Interview

A semi structured interview format is often chosen because the open format mitigates bias that might be imposed by the leading questions which often form a part of structured interviews. It also allows an interviewer to incorporate new information and follow new ideas as they come up in the interview, without being bound by a preconceived set of ideas.

The main negative of using a semi structured interview format is that it requires some skill on the part of the interviewer, who must be able to establish rapport with the interviewee and allow enough room to explore related ideas while still keeping focus. Data from semi structured interviews is also typically harder to organize and analyze than data from a structured interview might be.

Planning and Conducting a Semi Structured Interview

While you don’t need to write down a complete set of questions for a semistructured interview, you will want to plan extensively:

  • Prepare a thorough list of topics and write down some tentative questions.
  • Think about different ways of approaching the ideas you want to discuss.
  • Make sure the interview site is comfortable and conducive to discussion, as the success of your interview depends on your interviewee feeling free to talk.
  • Begin by introducing your topic and research, then ask a few general background questions.

Go on to your topic, asking questions that instigate discussion (as opposed to yes/no replies). Allow the interviewee freedom to expand on side issues that particularly interest him, but be prepared to bring the topic back to the main topic as needed. At the end of the interview, give the interviewee a chance to share any additional points he or she feels is important.


Zorn, Ted. Designing and Conducting SemiStructured Interviews for Research. Retrieved from on June 23, 2018.
Jamshed, Shazia. Qualitative research method-interviewing and observation. Journal of Basic and Clinical Pharmacy. September 2014-November 2014; 5(4): 87–88. doi: 10.4103/0976-0105.141942. Retrieved from on June 23, 2018.
Oxfam. Conducting Semi-structured Interviews. Retrieved from on June 24, 2018

Stephanie Glen. "Semistructured Interview: Simple Definition" From Elementary Statistics for the rest of us!

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