The following in an excerpt from The SAGE Handbook of Interview Research: The Complexity of the Craft (2012)
Summary: This handbook provides comprehensive guidance on conducting qualitative interviews. It covers various aspects of the interview process, including designing questions, ethical considerations, and interpreting responses. It's particularly useful for understanding how to approach sensitive topics like AI's societal impact.
Synchronous and Asynchronous Interviews: Establishing Research Relationships Online
Gubrium, Jaber F., James A. Holstein, Amir B. Marvasti, and Karyn D. McKinney, eds. The SAGE Handbook of Interview Research: The Complexity of the Craft. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2012.
Interviews as social arenas provide both vehicles and sites through which people construct and contest explications for their views and actions (Foucault, 1977). They can take the form of group interviews to explore the generation of social representations and social knowledge of the viewpoints of a small number of participants (Schneider, Kerwin, Frechtling, & Vivari, 2002), as well as one-to-one semistruc- tured and unstructured interviews that include eth- nographic, life history, and narrative approaches. Both group and individual interviews can produce a wealth of data about people’s experiences, thoughts, and feelings from their perspectives and can become a series of representations, as conversations, text, or notes. These methods then can become the site for the construction, interpretation, understanding, and representation of experience. The commitment to and reliance on the interview to produce narrative experience led Atkinson and Silverman (1997) to argue that this has created an interview society. Online or Internet interviews have become popu- lar tools for data collection. To date, researchers have taken face-to-face approaches to interviewing and adapted them for the online environment. Over the past decade, there has been a wealth of academic research, particularly in the social sciences, that has used a range of approaches to online interviewing. These approaches have included virtual discussion/ focus groups (Gatson & Zweerink, 2004; Stewart & Williams, 2005) and one-to-one interviews via e-mail (Bampton & Cowton, 2002; Hinton-Smith, 2006) to gather textual data in naturalistic settings online. Online interviews can be broadly divided into two main categories: synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous interviews mirror a traditional inter- view in that they take place in real time but in an online environment. Asynchronous online interviews are non–real time. This means they are carried out in a time-lapsed manner that makes it possible for researchers to work easily with participants living in different time zones or working different time shifts from their own. As discussed later in the chapter, which of these two modes is chosen will affect the construction of participant–researcher relationships during online interviews.
Synchronous interviews can be complicated to set up as the researcher needs access to the appro- priate software, such as chat room facilities. Furthermore, the researcher has to accommodate time zone differences at the time of scheduling and throughout the interview (Kazmer & Xie, 2008). However, they do offer opportunities for real-time responses from participants as well as a high level of participant involvement. To this extent, they mirror the traditional face-to-face interview, pro- viding greater spontaneity than asynchronous inter- views and thus allowing individuals to answer right away (Chen & Hinton, 1999). Furthermore, in the concealing contexts of online discussions, where people’s social and personal characteristics are not immediately visible, participants who are reticent or shy in face-to-face contexts may find that they have more confidence to “speak” freely and make extensive contributions to conversations (Rheingold, 1994, pp. 23–24). In synchronous interviews, the interaction and sharing of experiences is framed by researchers’ and participants’ online presence. The real-time nature of online interviews, as in face-to-face interviews, if managed appropriately by the researcher, can encourage spontaneous interactions between partici- pants and researcher, whether involved in one-on- one or group interviews of various sorts. The immediate and dynamic form of dialogue can elevate participants’ awareness of each other and narrow the psychological distance between them, as well as enhancing the feeling of joint involvement (Bowker & Tuffin, 2004). One of the disadvantages of this mode of inter- viewing is that only people with access to the Internet and/or who have keyboard skills and expe- rience of online communication facilities will be able to participate in fast-paced, synchronous, text- based interviews. Literacy in dealing with computers and online communication facilities is therefore essential, as taking part in a synchronous interview using either a chat room or conferencing software can be complex for participants who have basic technological expertise. Furthermore, the fast-paced nature of synchronous interviews means that par- ticipants can fall behind. The distinction between responding and sending can also become blurred as conversational turn taking develops into overlap- ping conversations. This can lead to brief responses from the participants and less opportunity for researchers to reciprocate or clarify questions (Bowker & Tuffin, 2004). However, new forms of online synchronous interviews are beginning to emerge that allow researchers to make use of VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocols) to construct audio interviews, even if researcher and participants are invisible to each other on the Internet, reducing the need for researcher and participants to be depen- dent on text-based communications. This form of synchronous Internet interview is similar to tele- phonic interviews in its process.
Interviews that are conducted in non–real time, or asynchronously, are mainly facilitated via e-mail and, in terms of technological requirements, are far easier to set up than synchronous interviews. With this mode of interview, participants can answer at a time suitable to their personal or work-based schedules. As there are no time restrictions on the relationships and interactions between researcher and participants in this mode of interviewing, this type of interview is particularly useful for research projects that need the researcher to work with participants who are located in different time zones or work in different time pat- terns, such as shift work, or who may be difficult to reach or interview face-to-face or by telephone. The absence of a temporal dimension also allows partici- pants and researchers to take as much time as they wish to consider the questions and potential responses, rereading and reflecting on what they have previously written before actually responding or sending a prompt or request, thus enriching the interview text (James & Busher, 2006). Such an approach may help provide more open and honest exchanges than socially desirable responses. This type of interview can be simpler to adminis- ter when conducted through e-mail. Researchers can send interview questions to participants one at a time or a set of questions as an e-mail attachment and then just wait for a response. This can take several days or even weeks as participants do not necessar- ily reply to questions in the time frame set by the resea rcher (James & Busher, 2009). Furthermore, there is a greater risk of nonresponse from participants than with synchronous interviews as participants can be distracted by other demands on their time and not feel pressed to respond. Participants’ everyday lives, let alone exceptional circumstances, such as surges in workloads or family crises, of which a researcher may be unaware, can inhibit participation in a rese arch project, interrupting the flow of the online interview. In the worst circumstances, this can lead to a partici- pant’s temporary disengagement from the project or withdrawal from it (James, 2007). Kazmer and Xie (2008) argue that this may affect participant attrition for a number of reasons. First, people may stop using e-mail at specific times, such as during summer. Second, e-mail can be used inconsistently, and third, people may disconnect from their service provider. Researchers may have to work hard to maintain rapport with participants who engage spasmodically with a research project. Probes or prompts to main questions can get lost in participants’ e-mail traffic. Furthermore, it is relatively easy for participants to delete or ignore e-mails with requests for further information if they are too busy or lose interest in the research project, especially if they do not wish to open up (Kivits, 2005). However, the long-term nature of e-mail inter- views does allow for the collection of in-depth data through repeated interactions and a closer reflection of the interview issues. While some researchers see this as the sole advantage of e-mail (James & Busher, 2006), this approach can also create more socially desirable responses rather than a spontaneous response generated through a synchronous inter- view. Participants may also digress to subjects outside the research project, making it difficult to maintain the flow of the dialogue (Sanders, 2005). Yet in their e-mail study of pregnancy loss, McCoyd and Kerson (2006, p. 397) found that many participants wrote their responses “in a stream-of-consciousness man- ner” that included both prior and immediate emo- tional responses. This seemed to empower the participants to present themselves in the ways they chose. In terms of the data analysis, this helped reduce the effects of interpretation error, which can occur when analyzing qualitative interview data. Nonetheless, the researchers also recognized the need to ensure the credibility and truth worth of the interviews by going back to the participants to clarify the meaning of their texts and obtaining further feedback where necessary. As Burns notes (2010), “It is important, nonetheless, even amid the pleasure of how easy producing this immediately analysable text, to continue to reflect what other changes this email interviews format produces in the production and consumption of research data.” As with synchronous interviews, there is no need for transcription in asynchronous interviews, as there is a continuous and visible text-based record of each interview constructed during its course on e-mail or on some other form of online communica- tion. This can reduce participants’ apprehension about speaking and being recorded since the records of the interviews are more likely to be accurate and, particularly in e-mail interviews, can easily be checked by participants during the course of an interview as they can scroll back and forth through the text. Misrepresentation of what has been said during an interview, which sometimes occurs during transcription, does not happen here, and participants do not have to wait for some time after the end of a research interview to have an opportunity to validate their record of it.