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An online interview is a form of online research method. It takes many of the methodological issues raised in traditional face to face or F2F interviews and transfers these online with some key differences. It principally focuses on the conduct of one-to-one exchanges as one-to-many exchanges are usually called online focus groups. There are different forms of online interviews: synchronous online interviews (for example via chat technology) and asynchronous online interviews (for example via email). In addition, online interviews can be distinguished according to the number of interviewees that participate, as online interviews can be conducted in a group setting or one a one-to-one basis.

Whilst there is a vast body of literature concerned with qualitative interviewing[1] the online approach to interviewing remains a new and innovative research method. However, there are many reasons why online interviews can be an appropriate and valuable methodological tool. For example, the use of online interviews as opposed to onsite interviews provides the researcher with opportunities to:

  • Carry out interviews with a very geographically dispersed population;
  • Interview individuals or groups who are often difficult to reach, such as the less physically mobile (disabled/in prison/in hospital) or the socially isolated (drug dealers/terminally ill/ etc.) or those living in dangerous places (war zones). It can also be used to reach a target audience where the audience is unknown - e.g. users who may use a certain type of technology of used something in a specific way.
  • Provide savings in costs to the researcher (for example, costs associated with travel and venue hire);
  • Supply ready transcribed interview data, quickly, providing fast and cheap alternatives to face-to-face interviews;
  • Reduce issues of interviewer effect as participants cannot 'see' each other.

There are, however, possible drawbacks to online interviews. These may include:

  • Difficulty in assessing how questions and replies are being interpreted on either side due to the lack of visual clues;
  • Establishing a good rapport and level of trust between researcher and participant in a computer mediated research relationship;
  • Achieving a long-term commitment to the research subject by participants if this is necessary;
  • A diverse range of technical skills within a group of research participants - participants cannot be assumed to all possess the level of technical competence required to employ the research methods.
  • The possibility of difficulty in achieving satisfactory closure to the research relationship at the end of a long-term project.
  • Use of some online "venues" which are easily accessible by the general public, e.g. chatrooms or discussion boards, may be off-putting to some potential participants.[2]
  • The researcher possibly not being aware of distractions that are interrupting the interviewee's engagement with the interview.[2]
  • There is the need to 'advertise' questionnaires to users which might be done through relevant newsgroups and forums although net-iquette does need to be adhered to.

'The jury is still out with regard to the effectiveness of online vis-a-vis FTF interviewing' (Mann and Stewart (2005): 159). [3]

Researchers could also consider the relative merits of telephone interviews with those of online interviews.

Advantages of online interviews compared to telephone interviews include:-

  • Readily available transcripts
  • Usually no additional cost such as the cost of a telephone call
  • Asynchronous online interviews enable people in different time zones to communicate more conveniently
  • Asynchronous online interviews eliminate the need to schedule the interview as the interviewers and interviewees do not need to be online at the same time.

Advantages of telephone interviews over online interviews include:-

  • Ability to receive and give verbal cues
  • It is quicker to speak than type
  • It is easier for the interviewer to bring the interview back 'on topic' quickly

Carr and Worth state that 'Studies which directly compare telephone and face-to-face interviewing tend to conclude that telephone interviewing produces data which are at least comparable in quality to those attained by the face-to-face method'.[4]

Asynchronous online interviewsEdit

An asynchronous online interview is one where the researcher and the researched do not need to be online at the same time. Typically these interviews will use email but other technologies might also be employed. A concern related to the asynchronous method is the possibility of interviews gradually drying up over an extended period. While the possibility of longitudinal research is very valuable it is also riskier and requires high levels of participant motivation. Rezabek describes this as a "lack of timeliness".[5]

ReferencesEdit

  1. Becker and Bryman 2004; Burgess 1984; Flick 2002; May 2001
  2. 2.0 2.1 Illingworth, Nicola The Internet Matters: Exploring the Use of the Internet as a Research Tool. Sociological Research Online. URL accessed on 11 February 2009.
  3. Mann and Stewart (2005)Internet Communication and Qualitative Research: A Handbook for Researching Online London: Sage
  4. Eloise C.J. Carr, Allison Worth. The use of the telephone interview for research. Nursing Times Research, Vol. 6, No. 1, 511-524 (2001)
  5. Rezabek, Roger (2000, January). Online focus groups: Electronic discussions for research [67 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research [On-line Journal], 1(1). (http://www.qualitative-research.net/fqs-texte/1-00/1-00rezabek-e.htm

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