Human-centered research: The benefits of conducting face-to-face interviews for qualitative research

Face-to-Face Interview Qualitative Research

Key highlights

  • Face-to-face interviews foster trust, engagement, and nonverbal communication for deeper insights.
  • Real-time adaptation allows dynamic exploration and holistic understanding of participants and their environment.
  • Creating a comfortable environment, active listening, probing, and follow-up questions enhance the effectiveness of face-to-face interviews.
  • Despite challenges, face-to-face interviews remain crucial in qualitative research, emphasizing genuine human interaction and dialogue.

While online surveys have surged in popularity, face-to-face interviewing remains a vital qualitative research tool. Why? Research shows that conversational interviewing is more effective at improving understanding, reducing acquiescence, and even outperforming virtual interviews on sensitive topics. Face-to-face encounters offer a wealth of information that static questionnaires cannot. It captures the nuances of human interaction, the subtle shifts in tone and body language that online surveys miss entirely. This dynamic interplay offers researchers a richer, more accurate understanding of participants’ perspectives and experiences.

Furthermore, studies show that face-to-face interactions significantly boost response rates. From persuasive arguments to addressing hesitations, it can bridge the gap between reluctant participants and insightful data. Complex surveys, where clarification and probing questions are crucial, benefit greatly from this personal touch.

However, the advantages extend beyond mere participation. In this article, we will list the benefits of conducting face-to-face interviews for qualitative research and the best practices to keep in mind.

Advantages of face-to-face interviews in qualitative research

Face-to-face interviews go beyond simply collecting data – they forge a connection that unlocks a hidden wealth of information. Here are some key advantages that set them apart from other qualitative research methods:

Enhanced rapport and engagement

Face-to-face interaction fosters trust and rapport between interviewer and participant. Nonverbal cues like eye contact, smiles, and nods create a sense of shared understanding and encourage participants to feel comfortable, leading to more open and engaged responses. This rapport also allows the interviewer to adapt their approach based on the participant’s emotional state and level of understanding, resulting in a more tailored and productive interview.

Nonverbal communication and body language analysis

Beyond spoken words, nonverbal communication provides a rich layer of information that online surveys simply cannot capture. Facial expressions, gestures, and posture can reveal emotions, hesitations, and even hidden meanings that contradict or complement verbal responses. Trained interviewers can analyze these nonverbal cues to gain a deeper understanding of the participant’s experience and identify inconsistencies or unspoken truths.

Flexibility in exploring unexpected insights

Unlike scripted online surveys, face-to-face interviews allow for real-time adaptation and follow-up questions. This flexibility enables the interviewer to delve deeper into unexpected avenues that emerge during the conversation. A seemingly insignificant side comment could uncover a new perspective or shed light on an unknown aspect of the topic. This dynamic exploration empowers the researcher to gather richer and more nuanced data.

Depth of insights through observation and interaction

Beyond verbal and nonverbal communication, face-to-face interviews allow for observation of the participant’s environment, behavior, and interactions. This can include factors like the participant’s workspace, family dynamics, or even how they react to specific questions. These observations, combined with the interview itself, create a holistic picture of the individual and their experience, providing a depth of insight unmatched by other methods.

Techniques and best practices in face-to-face interviews

Conducting effective face-to-face interviews requires careful planning and skilled execution. Here are some key techniques and best practices:

Creating a comfortable environment for participants

The interview setting should be free from distractions and conducive to open communication. This includes choosing a quiet location, ensuring privacy, and establishing a welcoming and friendly atmosphere. The interviewer’s demeanor should be professional yet approachable, putting the participant at ease and encouraging open dialogue.

Active listening and follow-up questions

Effective interviewing is not simply asking questions, it’s actively listening to the participant’s responses and building on them through follow-up questions. This involves demonstrating attentiveness, using verbal cues like “mm-hmm” or “I see,” and asking clarifying questions to ensure understanding. Probing deeper with open-ended questions like “Can you tell me more about that?” or “How did that make you feel?” can elicit insightful details and uncover hidden thoughts or emotions.

Utilizing probing techniques for deeper insights

Beyond basic follow-up questions, several probing techniques can help explore complex topics and uncover deeper insights. Techniques like mirroring, reflecting back key words or phrases, can encourage elaboration and clarification. Using gentle confrontation – politely challenging inconsistencies or asking for further explanation – can reveal contradictions or hidden narratives. Silence can also be a powerful tool, allowing the participant time to ponder and elaborate on their thoughts.

Use cases: Which situations are best-suited for face-to-face interviews?

While face-to-face interviews offer considerable advantages, they are not always the most efficient or practical approach. Here are some situations where they are particularly effective:

  • Exploring sensitive topics: When dealing with sensitive or personal subjects, the trust and rapport built through face-to-face interaction can encourage participants to open up and share experiences they might otherwise withhold.
  • Understanding complex phenomena: For intricate topics or situations where nuances and context are crucial, face-to-face interaction allows for detailed exploration and avoids potentially misleading interpretations that could occur in written responses.
  • Gathering rich qualitative data: When in-depth understanding and detailed narrative accounts are necessary, face-to-face interviews provide the ideal platform for capturing rich qualitative data that goes beyond simple facts and figures.
  • Building relationships with participants: If ongoing collaboration or follow-up with participants is anticipated, face-to-face interviews can establish a personal connection and rapport that facilitates future interactions.

By using the right techniques and applying them in suitable situations, face-to-face interviews can help researchers tap into insights and pave the way for richer, more in-depth qualitative research.

Related reading: CATI vs CAWI: Exploring the best approach for qualitative research


Although face-to-face interviews can yield a lot of valuable data, challenges exist. Building rapport with diverse participants, navigating sensitive topics, and minimizing interviewer bias require careful planning and ethical considerations. Thorough training for interviewers, ensuring cultural sensitivity, and maintaining participant anonymity can help overcome these hurdles.

Despite these challenges, face-to-face interviews remain an essential pillar of human-centered research in the digital age. In a world increasingly dominated by automated data collection and impersonal interactions, they remind us that knowledge isn’t merely extracted, but forged through shared stories, emotions, and lived experiences. By prioritizing genuine human interaction and open dialogue, researchers can unlock the nuanced depths of human experiences, enriching our collective understanding of the world and its occupants.

Netscribes, with 20 years of experience in crafting impactful primary research, brings this human-centered approach to life. Our diverse suite of research methodologies, including face-to-face interviews, ensures the right tool for every objective.

Ready to tap into the power of human stories? Contact us today. 

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