Online interview

An online interview is an online research method conducted using computer-mediated communication (CMC),[1] such as instant messaging, email, or video. Online interviews require different ethical considerations, sampling and rapport than practices found in traditional face-to-face (F2F) interviews. Online interviews are separated into synchronous online interviews, for example via online chat which happen in 'real time' online[2] and asynchronous online interviews, for example via email conducted in non-real time.[2] Some authors discuss online interviews in relation to online focus groups[2][3] whereas others look at online interviews as separate research methods.[4] This article will only discuss online interviews.

Online interviews, like offline interviews, typically ask respondents to explain what they think or how they feel about an aspect of their social world.[5] Interviews are especially useful for understanding the meanings participants assign to their activities; their perspectives, motives, and experiences.[3] Interviews are also useful for eliciting the language used by group members, gathering information about processes that cannot be observed, or inquiring about the past.[5] Thus the objectives researchers have do not differ significantly, however the methods and research design can be effected by the online component of the research which this article will take issue with.


In online interviews, data is primarily generated through conversations between a researcher and "respondent". Researchers often seek out a deliberate (or "non-random") selection of respondents, recruiting individuals who can provide insight on a particular phenomenon, situation, or practice.[5] Online Interviews can utilize a selection of formats and employ varying means of computer-mediated communication (CMC).


The interview is synchronous if it is conducted in real time. Skype interviews allow participants and researchers to converse in real time. Video chat is the closest a researcher will get towards resembling a face-to-face interview.[6] This is because it allows for facial expressions and other visual cues that are absent in textually based forms such as chatrooms.[7] Another way of conducting synchronous interviews online is using WebRTC. When WebRTC is used web browser (Firefox, Chrome or IE) acts as a client and both the parties can connect over a real-time video-chat.


An asynchronous online interview takes place when the researcher and the participant are not online at the same time. Typically these interviews will use email but other technologies might also be employed. This can be an advantage for research conducted across time zones or with busy participants, allowing them to answer questions at their convenience.[5] Kitvits (2005 cited in Dowling 2012) point out that asynchonous interviews are very useful for reflective process which helps to assure rigor.[8]

A concern related to the asynchronous method is the possibility of interviews gradually drying up over an extended period. While the possibility of long term "longitudinal" research is valuable, it is also risky. Completion requires high levels of participant motivation, since they have not dedicated a specific block of time.[3] Additionally, asynchronous online interviews may feel less conversational and make it more difficult to ask follow-up questions. Rezabek (2000) describes this as a "lack of timeliness".[9]


Structured interviews are guided by questions which are prepared prior to the interview.[1]


Semi-structured interviews balance the pre-planned questions of a structured approach with the spontaneity and flexibility of the unstructured interview.[1]


Unstructured interviews are conversations where the researcher collects data on a broad topic, however, does have any specific questions prepared,[1] allowing informants to guide the conversation by offering stories and additional insights.[5] Unstructured interviews may be especially useful when researchers are trying to understand an unfamiliar setting, a phenomenon or people's motives.[3] Dowling (2012) used unstructured interviews in an asynchronous format via email.[8]

Online versus offline


There are many reasons online interviews can be an appropriate and valuable methodological tool. For example, the use of online interviews as opposed to onsite interviews provides the researcher with opportunities to:

In asynchronous interviews the extended time frame can also be a benefit allowing researchers more time to think of evocative or precise follow-up questions. Researchers can reread the chat history and use previous responses to inform the subsequent questions.[8]


There are, however, possible drawbacks to online interviews. Scholars such as Mann and Stewart (2005) have questioned how effective they are in comparison to face-to-face interviews.[12] Online interviews may make it difficult to:

Though the question-and-answer format of the interview is similar to face-to-face interviews, during text-based interviews participants and researchers are not visible to one another. This can make it difficult to assess how questions and responses are being interpreted on either side due to a lack of visual cues.[13]

Internet researcher Annette Markham (1998) observes that text-based interviewing can take much longer than face-to-face, phone or Skype interviews because typing takes longer than talking. Textual methods require users to verbalize conventional aspects of polite conversation, such as nodding or smiling, which requires added effort and time.[13]

Ethical considerations

There are many ethical considerations that arise solely because the interview is conducted online. As suggested by the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR), these will vary depending on community norms, local and national codes and guidelines, and context specific considerations.[14]


If the research was conducted the researcher should consider taking appropriate steps to protect human subjects and, where appropriate, their avatars or online representations.[1]


Has the researcher obtained proper informed consent? The importance of consent stays the same online. The researcher needs to obtain it so to not formally contravenes European data protection legislation.[2] However, it can be done in different ways online. For example, a consent form could be emailed and then faxed, posted or send back via email. Another way of creating consent could be to include a tick box "I accept" to simulate a signature.[2]


In asynchronous formats of interviews, researchers have experienced a lack of knowing if the participant has withdrawn or if the answer just took some time.[8] In synchronous interviews a withdraw button could be added.[2]


Netiquette, the way people except someone to behave online, becomes important for online interviews in three ways. Firstly, silence which can be used in face-to-face interviews as a tactic to encourage someone to talk more[15] – is more ambiguous online. It could mean that the interviewer has left, is slow to answer or even withdrew from the interview.[2] Secondly, by selecting participants for an online interview two things should be kept in mind. On the one side, the aspect of representation should be considered as not everyone has internet or has the technical abilities to use it.[2] Furthermore, if the interviewer aims to approach candidates online in forums, the researcher should think of ways how to do it in the least disruptive way, for example asking the forum facilitator first instead of directly posting the inquiry into the forum.[2] Another important aspect is the use of emoticons. A sensitive use of emoticons is advisable to adapt the style to suit that of the interviewee.[8]

Community interviews

The Internet allows many people at once to directly interview persons of public interest. Voting-systems may allow communities to collectively find the questions they'd like to get answered most.

Reddit AMAs

One popular subsite of the social media and aggregation site reddit, /r/IAmA, prompts its users to ask celebrities, politicians other persons of public interest questions about any topic. These interviews are called "AMAs" for "ask me anything".[16] These interviews, of which there are multiple everyday, often receive thousands of questions which are voted on by the community via reddit's comment-voting system with all of them being answerable by the person being interviewed. Interviewees are required to provide proof of their identity to the volunteer moderators of the site and have included people such as Barack Obama,[17][18] Chris Hadfield[19] (who answered questions from the International Space Station), Bill Gates,[20] Stephen Colbert,[21] Arnold Schwarzenegger, Larry King and many more.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Salmons, J. (2014). Qualitative Online Interviews: Strategies, Design, and Skills. SAGE Publications.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 "Internet-based Interviewing : SAGE Research Methods". Retrieved 2016-04-16.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Stromer-Galley, Jennifer (2003). "Depth Interviews for the Study of Motives and Perceptions of Internet Use". Presented at the International Communication Association Conference. San Diego, CA.
  4. Stewart, Kate; Williams, Matthew (2005-11-01). "Researching online populations: the use of online focus groups for social research". Qualitative Research. 5 (4): 395–416. doi:10.1177/1468794105056916. ISSN 1468-7941.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Lindlof, Thomas; Taylor, Bryan (2002). Qualitative communication research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  6. Hanna, Paul (2012-04-01). "Using internet technologies (such as Skype) as a research medium: a research note". Qualitative Research. 12 (2): 239–242. doi:10.1177/1468794111426607. ISSN 1468-7941.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Hanna, P. (5 April 2012). "Using internet technologies (such as Skype) as a research medium: a research note". Qualitative Research. 12 (2): 239–242. doi:10.1177/1468794111426607.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 "Online Asynchronous and Face-to-Face Interviewing: Comparing Methods for Exploring Women's Experiences of Breastfeeding Long Term : SAGE Research Methods". Retrieved 2016-04-16.
  9. Rezabek, Roger (2000, January). Online focus groups: Electronic discussions for research [67 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research [online journal], 1(1).
  10. 1 2 Illingworth, Nicola (31 August 2001). "The Internet Matters: Exploring the Use of the Internet as a Research Tool". Sociological Research Online. Retrieved 11 February 2009.
  11. Lo Iacono, Valeria (2016-05-01). "Skype as a Tool for Qualitative Research Interviews". Sociological Research Online. 21 (2).
  12. Mann and Stewart (2005)Internet Communication and Qualitative Research: A Handbook for Researching Online London: Sage
  13. 1 2 Markham, Annette (1998). Life online: researching real experience in virtual space. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press. pp. 61–83.
  14. Markham, A., & Buchanan, E. (2012). Ethical decision making and internet research: Recommendations from the AoIR Ethics Working Committee. Available from:
  15. Boyd, Danah (2015). Making sense of teen life: Strategies for capturing ethnographic data in a networked era. In E. Hargittai & C. Sandvig (Eds.), Digital Research Confidential: The Secrets of Studying Behavior Online. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
  16. Madrigal, Alexis C. (January 7, 2014). "'Ask Me Anything': How a Weird Internet Thing Became a New Form of Media". The Atlantic. Retrieved January 7, 2014.
  17. "Barack Obama AMA". Reddit.
  18. "President Obama makes online appearance on Reddit". The Telegraph. London. August 29, 2012. Retrieved August 30, 2012.
  19. "Chris Hadfield AMA". Reddit.
  20. "Bill Gates AMA". Reddit.
  21. "Stephen Colbert AMA". Reddit. Retrieved May 11, 2012.
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