Interviews and Focus Groups
The interview is another research tool that is especially useful at the exploration stage, or for
qualitative research. Interviews are conducted either in person or by telephone. They are similar
to surveys, but are designed to assess information in more depth than would be possible in a
survey. Interviewers usually have a protocol for asking and recording responses, or the interview
may be audio- or videotaped. Interview questions are frequently open-ended in nature, but many
interviews also include rating scales like those used in surveys.
Focus groups are basically interviews conducted in a group format. One of the biggest
advantages is that participants can interact and build on comments from each other. Another
advantage is in time savings to conduct the interviews; however, the qualitative data analysis
may be as time-intensive as analysis of interviews. One disadvantage of focus groups is that
participants may not have time or feel free to make completely honest comments in front of
others. This can lead to “group think” or other forms of bias. Focus groups may not be as useful
as interviews for getting in-depth information about a particular individual’s experiences.
Interviews and focus group tapes generally must be transcribed for data analysis, often in the
form of content analysis. Content analysis is a standard social science methodology for studying
the content of communication. In service learning research, much of the content analysis is
informal or in nature. In this technique, researchers develop a series of categories or a coding
frame, sometimes based on a theoretical framework. Interview or focus group transcripts are
coded against the categories, leading to conclusions about common themes, issues processes, or
ideas expressed, or student development along academic, social, or civic dimensions.
Formal content analysis can be used when there are large amounts of data to be analyzed. A
number of software programs have been developed, such as NVivo, to assist in content analysis.
(These programs are sometimes called “computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software, or
CAQDAS). In essence, these programs all code transcripts based on keywords, key phrases, or
other salient features.
For more information on content analysis see: