Three-structure Interviews: Structure, Length and Spacing

A three-structure interview must take in three stages: semi-structured, unstructured and narrative interview. Three categories are not interchangeable, and hence it is crucial that you respect the structure of the interview.


It is not surprising that participants will narrate a story about their present experience in the context of a topic. You may be tempted to be all ears to comprehend their experience, but this should be followed in the second stage of the interview. If you do not keep yourself from carrying it on, it will deteriorate the focus of your interview and the sense of purpose.

semi-structured interview for qualitative research comprises open-ended questions that seek answers to “How”. At this stage, you should aim at collecting data about their past experience in the context of a topic. It is essential that you know the historical account of participants that brought them to the current level. Combining the results will help you reach the right conclusion. For instance, you interviewed a cohort of 50-years-old diabetic patients, you may ask the following questions:

  • How did you come to know about diabetes?”
  • How did you feel when you found out you had diabetes?
  • What habits did you blame for the cause of diabetes?
  • When and where did you get checked for diabetes?

With the help of these questions, you will come to know about their concerns, reactions to diagnosis, medical therapies and lifestyle changes.

As you move onto the second interview, you will concentrate on collecting concrete details of your respondents’ present lived experience. You will not ask for opinions but the real experience of current time. At this stage, you can ask your interviewees following questions:

  • How do you manage your diabetes?
  • What are your motivations toward controlling diabetes?
  • What do your meal, drink and snacks include?
  • What is your biggest struggle that you face while managing diabetes?

At the third stage of the interview, you will unfold events from the perspective of your participants’ life experience. In diabetes, your respondents will explain to you how they live with the disease over time.


“Oh, that’s too long,” this will be an expression from your participants if you say that the interview has a 120-minute format. It is labyrinthine to have participants to agree to be interviewed for this length of time. There is no standard timeframe for an interview. For younger participants, shorter time can be appropriate. However, it depends upon the type of the interview. Since a three-structure interview follows a chronological order, you can learn to hone your skills to finish each stage within a set amount of time. open-ended questions in a qualitative interview cause undue perturbation among participants, and they keep watching the clock as they have other plans too. It is vital that you try to finish it within the scheduled time.


A three-structure interview works best if you space the interview from three days to a week. This keeps participants from losing the connection between all sections of the interview. This will also help you lessen the impact of an idiosyncratic interview. You may be having a terrible day, sick, or distracted in such a way as to affect the quality of a particular interview.

You can have a successful three-structure interview if you bear in mind the importance of structure, length and spacing. So go on and follow these simple yet mandatory schemes for successful writing!

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