Rethinking Online Interviews

Ms Serene Ong1

1National University of Singapore, Singapore

Data from face-to-face interviews compared to online interviews is generally regarded as higher quality, richer and more authentic. Perceived limitations of online interviews include loss of body language cues, difficulty in building rapport, unfamiliarity with online applications, and uneven access to computers or applications. These limitations can cast doubt on the richness and veracity of online responses. The technological challenges are mitigated by advances in technology and increasing internet access and use; however, questions of richness and authenticity of data remain.

Due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, I conducted the majority of my interviews on Zoom. Using two case studies and an alternative conception of authenticity, I describe how online interviews can be rich and authentic. Even though the quantitative ‘bandwidth’ of signals interviewees ‘emit’ is reduced in online communication, I argue that such reduction allows interviewees to better control the construction of their signals. Understanding interviews as mutual co-construction of meaning, reducing extraneous signals makes it possible for the interview to more closely focus on the meanings being constructed. Balancing the advantages and limitations of online interviews, online interviews compare favorably with face-to-face interviews. The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing a rethink of the ways we conduct qualitative research, and qualitative researchers ought to respond to new opportunities.


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