Unstructured questions are used in qualitative research and most predominantly, in face-to-face interviews, as conversation is able to flow more naturally between the researcher and the respondent. However, they can be used in telephone interviews and are sometimes referred to as open-ended questions.
There are many disadvantages and advantages to including unstructured questions in research. Unfortunately, adding unstructured questions to an interview or questionnaire can make the research process time-consuming due to the relaxed nature of the questions. This makes it difficult to enforce a set amount of time to complete the interview, or questionnaire. As a result of this it can mean the sample size is quite small which could hinder the quality of the results.
Unstructured questions may also cause the respondent to take more time when answering the questions, creating a low response rate and poor quality results.
In comparison, respondents may feel the need to carry on talking, producing a large amount of useless data. The analysis process may increase as it is harder to assess and code responses gathered from unstructured interviews, compared to structured questions. Although, software is now available to help speed this stage of the research process up.
However, there are many advantages to using unstructured questions. The researcher may discover richer, more in-depth information that may have not been originally considered in the discussion guides, adding useful and interesting responses to the research. Unstructured questions are also similar to natural conversation patterns and so encourage the respondent to speak more freely and without bias. This is a reason why unstructured questions may be used when discussing more difficult subjects such as racial tensions or mortality.
A researcher is able to build a rapport and foundation of trust, which cannot be done with structured questions; this personal approach enables the respondent to feel comfortable giving an honest response.
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