In contrast to structured interviews, unstructured interviews permit open-ended responses to questions.
Such interviews are often called in-depth interviews. Instead of reading formal questions from a structured interview schedule, the interviewer in an unstructured interviewer has an outline of topics or a set of general questions to serve as a guide to the kind of information required.
By nature, the unstructured interview differs from traditional structured interviewing in several ways:
- In the unstructured interview, there is no formal structured instrument.
- The interviewer is free to move or change the conversation in any direction of interest that may come up during the interview. This is not the case in a structured interview.
- Details that are not brought out initially are sought through follow-up questions, called probes.
- It is particularly useful for exploratory studies.
The chief drawbacks of unstructured interviews are
- The responses are difficult to quantify;
- The interviews require highly skilled and experienced interviewers;
- The analysis is exceedingly time-consuming.