Empirical Tools of Research: Case Studies, Interviewing and Questionnaire Survey

Empirical Tools of Research: Case Studies, Interviewing and Questionnaire SurveyIn socio-legal research, collecting data through the process of observation is extensively used for empirical analysis. Empirical legal research has gained contemporary prominence due to the increasing value and importance of the study of ‘law m action’ instead of ‘law in the books.

Empirical legal scholarship involves applying social science research methods-whether qualitative, quantitative, or mixed methods- to gather and describe data and test hypotheses related to legal issues. Empirical legal scholarship can help to test conventional wisdom, dispel myths, and provide new findings. It enhances a lawyer’s ability to understand the implications and effects of the law on society. There is an increasing recognition that law students should know a wide range of research methodologies to understand law’s function in society and law’s nature and foundational principles.

As socio-legal research involves analysis of social behavior, observation is the most appropriate technique. Case studies, questionnaire surveys, and interviewing are considered important tools for such observation. However, case studies and interviews are qualitative, while questionnaire surveys are regarded as quantitative. These tools involve the collection of data about people, institutions, and their social context.

Empirical research requires linking data to concepts and connecting a concept to its empirical findings. In contrast to the traditional methods, the empirical approach tests legal propositions in their proper setting, that is, the socio-political conditions. These are frequently used as a data collection method for substantiating the hypothesis of the research project. Thus, empirical tools are important in testing the validity of the hypothesis framed.

The empirical approach stresses the link between research questions and data. The choice of data collection method may depend on personal preference, cost, time constraints, potential response rate, or many other factors important to a particular research project.

Case Studies

The case study is significant for empirical research and a corresponding sense of relevance to contemporary social problems. The need for a case study arises out of the desire to understand complex social phenomena, and it allows an investigation to retain the holistic and meaningful characteristics of real-life events.

Case studies emphasize detailed contextual analysis of a limited number of events or conditions and their relationships. The case study is defined as an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context or impact when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident. It can be an exploration of something unique, special, or interesting. A case study also seeks evidence, which supports the findings of the research.

The case study method explores and analyzes the individual life, single situation, institution, particular group, or community, which are too complex for the survey or experimental strategies. The main feature of a case study is that it examines individual instances, or cases, of some phenomenon.

The case study method generally calls for the researcher to choose from some possible events, people, organizations, etc. Then, the researcher needs to pick out one example from a wider range of examples of the class of things being investigated.

The principal advantage of a case study is the opportunity to research the real-life context of practice, technique, system, or phenomena. Case studies are focused on circumstantial uniqueness. Case studies may require a description of relevant provisions and contexts. Case studies may be used to test the hypothesis.

As a result, conclusions are not based on the author’s judgment but the results revealed by the case studies. The case study method depends upon the narrative type of description of life situations. It takes into consideration comparatively fewer cases and aims at more intensive study.

An in-depth case study can provide an understanding of the important aspects of a new or persistently problematic research area. Discovering the important features, developing an understanding of them, and conceptualizing them for further study, are often best achieved through the case study strategy.

However, the main concerns regarding the case study have been the subjective bias of the researcher in choosing it and lack of generalization. First, the researcher may be biased and subjective in selecting a case study to support or refute his argument. The second criticism is that case studies provide very little evidence of inference or generalization.

Case studies may be single or multiple. A single case study is applied for testing a well-founded theory to determine whether its propositions are correct. It is also applied when a case or situation is a unique one. The multiple or collective case study covers several cases to learn more about the phenomenon, population, or general condition. A study may contain more than one case study to produce more compelling empirical evidence.

But each case must be carefully selected to produce results that either support or contradict the initial set of propositions. If results are contradictory, the initial propositions must be revised and retested with another set of cases. Evidence of case study may come from documents, archival records, interviews, and direct observation by the researcher (field visit).

However, one should always keep in mind how to place the findings of a case study in research work or contribute to the thesis. A case study must involve collecting pervasive data to understand the topic being studied to make a meaningful contribution.

Before undertaking a case study, the following things should be considered: availability of data, confidentiality, the cost involved in collecting data, the cultural context of the collection; data collected should be consistent and scientific.

Careful attention should also be paid to the quality of data. For example, analysis of data derived from the case study can be based on theoretical propositions. The theoretical propositions can help the researcher to focus on certain data and to ignore other data.


The interview is the most frequently used technique for obtaining information and qualitative data. Interviewing is a particular type of conversation where one person seeks responses for a particular purpose from the other person: the interviewee.

It is seen as an effective, informal verbal and nonverbal conversation, initiated for specific purposes and focused on certain issues. According to one author, “…the personal interview is a face-to-face interpersonal role situation designed to elicit answers pertinent to the research hypotheses.” The interview is purposive communication between two persons as well as a psychological process of social interaction. Thus, the interview is also an inter-actional process.

Therefore, the use of interviews can help in gathering valid and reliable data that are relevant to research questions.

The objectives of the interview also include the exchange of ideas and experiences, eliciting information about a wide range of data in which the interviewee is well conversant.

Interview, based on the well-thought questionnaire, is a useful tool of research. An interview is a flexible research tool and can be used at any stage of the research work.

However, the interviewer must keep in sight the hypothesis of the research. This purpose determines the form and style of an interview interviewing as a data collection method can serve three purposes.

Firstly, it can be used as an exploratory device to help identify variables and relations.

Secondly, it can be the main instrument of research.

Thirdly, it can supplement other data-collection methods to go deeper into the situation at hand.

Interviews are conducted face to face with the obvious benefit of being able to observe the verbal and non-verbal behavior of the interviewee.

An interview can also be conducted over the phone or by email. Phone or email interview offers the opportunity to conduct more interviews within the same time frame and draws interviewees from a wider geographical area. The first step in preparing for interviews is to identify the information you want to gather.

Using the interviewing method to collect data has many advantages. First, this method helps the researcher explore and understand complex issues that could not be stated m the questionnaire survey.

Interviews are beneficial for producing data that deals with topics in-depth and in detail. Thus, the researcher can gain valuable insights based on the depth of the information gathered. Another major advantage of the interview is that it allows the interviewer to determine the wording of questions, clarify unclear terms, and control the order in which the questions are presented.

Also, carrying out a personal interview enables the researcher to probe for additional and detailed data.

Finally, an interviewer can collect supplementary information about respondents in an interview situation to aid the researcher in interpreting the results.

However, there are undeniable shortcomings in the interview method. The cost is significantly higher than that of the self-administrated questionnaire regarding the skills needed, training, analysis, and especially when interviews are spread over a large geographical area. Furthermore, the interviewer’s personal influence and bias can affect the interview.

Finally, the interview lacks the anonymity of the self-administrated questionnaire. Thus, the interviewer’s presence may be seen as jeopardizing anonymity, especially if a respondent is sensitive to the topic or some of the questions.

Thus, the main disadvantages of interviewing are: it is open to bias, poor reliability of the information, time-consuming, and getting access to suitable respondents.

One should keep in mind who are potential interviewees. Are they individuals, corporations, policymakers, including government officials, lawmakers, NGOs personalities?

One needs to be careful in the selection of interviewees to get comprehensive and reliable information. The researcher should obtain as much background information as possible on the interviewees and the research issues. The researcher should establish trust and resolve confidentiality issues. The questionnaire should be linked to research questions and relevant to the conceptual framework.

The interview’s success depends on the interviewer’s capacity to build rapport with the respondent, the right type of questions should be asked in the right manner, and the recording of the responses properly and accurately at the time of the interview. In addition, rapport building with the respondent requires a thorough understanding of the respondent and his social environment.

The interviewer should be friendly, courteous, conversational, and unbiased. A good interviewer also should be attentive and sensitive to the feelings of the interviewee. He should explain the study’s purpose and create confidence that the information will be kept in confidence. The researcher should try to know in advance, if possible, what kind of information he is looking for.

The interviewer needs to be flexible, objective, emphatic, persuasive, and a good listener. In addition, the interviewer must have a thorough knowledge of the nature of the problem, its various aspects, and the importance of the study.

You can use two methods to record the interview responses: Note-taking: Interviewers should plan to take notes during the interview and directly after. Tape recording-interviewers can also use a tape recorder to document what key informants say. This approach allows the interviewer to engage in the conversation without worrying about note-taking freely.

The interviewer may take brief notes during the interview, write down and organize notes at the end of the interview and use the tape recording to fill in information gaps or details. It is necessary to get informed consent from the key informant to audiotape the interview. The interview will be recorded so that none of their important insights and discussions are missed.

Types of interview

These are main type of interview;

  1. Structured Interview,
  2. Unstructured Interview,
  3. Focused Interview
  4. Focused Group Discussion (FGD)

Check out our article types of interviews which explain 10 types of interviews.

Structured Interview

It refers to formal, controlled, guided interviews. The interview is carried out based on pre-determined questions similar in format to a questionnaire survey.

Thus, a structured interview means all the questions are decided precisely in advance. The structured interview involves a prescribed set of questions that the researcher asks in a fixed order and generally requires the interviewee to respond in a standardized way. It means that some questions are presented to all the respondents in the same order.

The questions are set out in a close-ended way where the alternative responses are given for the respondents’ options. The main advantage of a structured interview is that it provides uniformity in generalizations.

However, it tends to be rigid and mechanical sometimes. Because the questions limit the respondent’s answer, he is asked. Consequently, the structured interview may not get all the information even though the respondent may be willing to provide it.

Unstructured Interview

The unstructured interview is based on flexible and open-ended questions. The interviewer bases his interview on purpose rather than the form. The interviewer is given more freedom to choose the form of interview depending on specific situations. It is generally held in the form of free discussion or a story-type narrative. In fact, it relies on developing a dialogue between interviewer and interviewee.

The interviewer is informed of the topic and invited to comment. The wording and the sequence of questions are changed, keeping in view the pattern of response. This open-ended approach of unstructured interviews requires creativity from the interviewer. It allows the researcher to address any topic which may be of interest to the research. But interviewee needs sufficient knowledge and skills to maintain focus and links with research questions.

The main advantage of open-ended interviews is that responses are flexible, and in-depth answers may be provided. The main disadvantages of unstructured interviews are that the responses’ analysis is much more difficult and time-consuming. It also demands deep knowledge and skill on the part of the interviewer.

Focused Interview

In a focused interview, the objective is to focus attention on the given experience of the respondent who is known to have been involved in a particular situation. Thus, the interviewer tries to focus his attention on the particular aspect of the problem and tries to know his experiences, attitudes, and emotional responses regarding the concrete situation under study.

The focused interview is differentiated from other types of interviews by the following characteristics: firstly, it takes place with persons known to have been involved in a particular concrete situation; secondly, it refers to situations that have been analyzed before the interview; thirdly, it is focused on the subjective experiences- attitudes and emotional responses regarding the particular concrete situations under study.

Focused Group Discussion (FGD)

It is a systematic questioning or interview of several individuals simultaneously in formal or informal settings. FGD is gaining popularity among legal researchers as it can provide a perspective on the research problem not available through individual interviews.

It is a process where group members talk freely and spontaneously about a certain topic guided by the interviewer. Its’ purpose is to obtain in-depth information on concepts, perceptions, and ideas of a group. Thus, FGD aims to be more than a question-answer interaction. It helps develop relevant research hypotheses by exploring in greater depth the problem to be investigated and its possible causes.

FGD has been described as some form of collective activity, and it provides multiple lines of communication and an environment for people to share ideas and experiences. In addition, FGD provides a situation where people can leam and educate others.

FGD has the advantages of becoming inexpensive, generating rich data, flexibility, and stimulating respondents. However, this type of interview is not without problems. One person may dominate the group. The researcher has less control over a group than a one-on-one interview. It also requires a highly skilled and trained interviewer or facilitator to conduct the discussion.

Interview of Key Informants

The interview of key informants is also known as an in-depth interview. In-depth interviewing is a qualitative research technique that involves conducting intensive individual interviews with a small number of respondents to explore their perspectives on a particular idea, program, or situation. In-depth interviews are useful when one wants detailed information about a person’s thoughts and behaviors or wants to explore new issues in depth.

A key informant is someone who has first-hand knowledge of the information you need or issues you seek to address or who can offer specific, specialized knowledge on a particular issue that the researcher wants to understand better.

A key informant can frequently offer a particular perspective of an issue or problem and give more candid or in-depth answers.

The purpose of key informant interviews is to collect information from a wide range of people- including community leaders, experts, professionals, or government officials – who have first-hand knowledge about the community or a pressing issue or problem. With their particular knowledge and understanding, these experts can provide insight into the nature of problems and give solutions.

Questionnaire Survey

A questionnaire survey is a structured data-collection technique whereby each respondent is asked a pre-formulated written set of questions to which he gives his answers. The term questionnaire is defined as “any structured research instrument which is used to collect social research data in a face to face interview, self-completion survey, telephone interview or web survey.”

The main objective of a questionnaire survey is to investigate social problems, conditions, structures within a definite geographical limit to collect scientific and well-ordered information. Generally, the findings of a questionnaire survey provide researchers a valuable tool to assess both qualitative and quantitative aspects of a problem.

The questionnaire survey involves gathering data from a sample of a large, diverse, varied, and scattered population from different places. The researcher collects data directly from people about their feelings, motivation, plans, beliefs, and personal, educational, and financial background in the questionnaire survey method.

The purpose of this questionnaire survey design is to generalize from a sample to a population so that inferences can be made about some characteristic, behavior, or attitude of the total population.

There are three criteria for evaluating a questionnaire survey: an assessment of the likelihood that the questionnaire will provide full information on the particular research topic. The value of the questionnaire will depend significantly on the extent to which it includes coverage of all vital information in the area of research.

The second criterion concerns the likelihood that the questionnaire will provide accurate information. Again, it depends considerably on how honest and full responses to the questionnaire.

Thirdly, the questionnaire can be evaluated according to its likelihood of achieving a decent response rate.

Before undertaking a questionnaire survey, it is necessary to select a problem, define the aim and purpose of the survey, and determine time limits for its completion.

But the identification of an appropriate sample of the population is vital as the survey may cover different people, situations, and institutions that are not absolutely similar to each other. Therefore, the basic assumption is that sample should represent the group as a whole, and the sample selection should be unbiased. Usually, the questionnaire is mailed to the respondents who are to give answers in the manner specified.

The sender does not meet and help the respondent in filling the questionnaire. It should be noted that a questionnaire can contain both questions and evaluative statements. Statements are useful for discerning and measuring the attitudes of the respondents. In the case of statements, the respondent may be asked to indicate his agreement or disagreement or make his own evaluation of the issue raised.

The questionnaire may contain either closed-ended or open-ended, or it can be a mixture of both. A list of pre-determined fixed alternative answers is provided in a closed-ended question, and the respondents are asked to choose an answer closest to their own opinion from the list.

Thus, closed-ended questions provide greater precision and uniformity of responses. Closed-ended questions also enhance the comparability of answers. But one obvious disadvantage of it is the lack of spontaneity in respondents’ answers.

On the other hand, in the open-ended questionnaire, the respondents have the flexibility to provide their own opinions. Therefore, the open-ended questionnaire can provide a wide variety of responses, which may be helpful for the researcher for an in-depth understanding of the whole issue.

But open-ended questions also present problems for the researcher. First, they are time-consuming for researchers to administer. In general, a good questionnaire should contain both categories of questions in varying proportions.

There is no hard and fast rule about the number of questions included in a questionnaire. It depends on factors like the topic, how complex the questions are, the nature of the targeted respondents. However, a questionnaire should contain only those questions which are crucial to the research.

Sources of the questionnaire can be drawn from the literature, a similar questionnaire employed in other countries area of research; an earlier questionnaire used in the same country, the issue to be tackled in the research, and the individuals to be interviewed.

Guidelines for Designing Questionnaire

  • Questions should be relevant to most respondents. The wording of questions should be specific so that the respondents know exactly what does the researcher want.
  • Questions should avoid technical jargon because the respondents are usually drawn from people of varied backgrounds.
  • A mix of open-ended and closed questions should be used to generate better findings of the study.
  • The length of the questionnaire should be kept to a minimum. A questionnaire should cover only those issues that are necessary for pursuing the research objectives.
  • The distribution of the questions should be carefully planned.
  • In some cases, the identity of the respondents should be anonymous.
  • Logical sequences should be maintained in framing questions.
  • Leading questions, personal questions, and complex questions should be avoided.
  • Simple and uncontroversial questions should be given first, and then more complicated questions should follow.
  • Avoid double-barreled questions. It means a question that has multiple parts.

Before setting a questionnaire, the researcher should decide what he is testing: hypothesis or extant literature. There should be explanatory notes with interpretation to answer difficult questions wherever necessary.

The questionnaire survey is a method of collecting data and, like any other method, has many advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of Questionnaire Survey

The main advantages of a questionnaire survey are that it can ascertain the views of a large sample of individuals, obtain both quantitative and qualitative views, generalize from the sample responses, and the research can be performed relatively quickly.

The following are some of the advantages of a questionnaire survey:

  • respondents have more flexibility in answering. They can take more time to collect detailed information required for the questionnaire and/or consult other sources. Furthermore, the respondents can answer the survey at their convenience.
  • Data can be gathered from a sample questionnaire that was widely dispersed geographically.
  • The absence of an interviewer provides greater anonymity for the respondent. The assurance of anonymity that a questionnaire provides is beneficial when the survey deals with sensitive issues, and non-disclosure of the identity of the respondents facilitates better findings of the questionnaire.
  • It allows for large numbers of respondents to be surveyed in a relatively short period.
  • Questionnaire surveys provide a greater uniformity than do the interviews. Everyone responds to the same questions, which ensures a degree of consistency in the findings.
  • It produces data that can easily be expressed in statistical form. This enables comparisons to be made between different groups and populations.
  • If the survey is properly conducted, the results are reliable and representative of a much wider population than directly investigated.

Disadvantages of Questionnaire Survey

The main disadvantages of questionnaire survey are:

  • Low response rates have always been a problem with a questionnaire survey. The respondent may not be able or willing to answer the question;
  • The researcher may get a biased set of responses.
  • It may be costly when the respondents are spread all over the country.
  • The answers have to be accepted as final; the researcher cannot correct a misunderstanding, give help to the respondent, or probe for further information.

Despite the above disadvantages, the questionnaire survey is probably the best method for collecting from a population too large to observe directly. However, data collected from the questionnaire survey can be useful when it is properly interpreted and analyzed.

As described above, each method of empirical study has its own advantages and disadvantages. To overcome this problem, one method may be supplemented by another.

A combination of a questionnaire survey, case study, and interviewing often yields the best results, but the balance of emphasis on a particular method shifts with the frame of reference and the study’s objectives.

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