An unstructured interview is an extended, open-ended interaction between an interviewer and an interviewee. Th is type of interview is referred to as an unstructured; or non standardized. interview because few predetermined or standardized procedures are established for conducting it. Because many decisions have to be made during the interview, this approach requires that the researcher have a high level of skill in interviewing and extensive knowledge regarding the interview topic (Kvale. 1996). Here, the interviewer has a general plan of inquiry but not a specific set of questions that must be asked, as is often the case with surveys. Unstructured interviews are essentially conversations in which interviewers establish the general direction by asking open-ended questions, to which interviewees may respond flexibly. Interviewers have the ability to ·shift gears" to pursue specific topics raised by interviewees because answers to one question are used to suggest the next question or new areas of inquiry. Sociologist Joe Feagin's (1991 ) study of middle-class African Americans is an example of research that used in-depth interviews to examine public discrimination and victims' coping strategies. No specific questions were asked regarding discrimination in public accommodations or other public places. Rather, discussion of discrimination was generated by answers to general questions about barriers to personal goals or in digressions in answers to specific questions about employment, education, and housing (Feagin, 1991).
Even in unstructured interviews, researchers must prepare a few general or "lead-ill" questions to get the interview started. Following the interviewee's initial responses, the interviewer may wish to ask additional questions on the same topic, probe for more information (by( using questions such as KIn what ways?M or "Anything else]"), or introduce a new line of inquiry.
At all points in the interview, careful listening is essential. It provides the opportunity to introduce new questions as the interview proceeds while simultaneously keeping the interview focused on the research topic. It also 0 enables the interviewer to envision the interviewees' experiences and to glean multiple levels of meaning.