Who asks the questions?
An interview is understood as ‘a conversation for the purpose of gathering information’ and this definition emphasizes the functional nature of the interview situation. Thus, although an interview may have the superficial structure of a conversation, it is actually a situation in which one party to the interchange, the interviewer, is required to obtain the answers to a predetermined set of questions or topics from the other party to the interchange, the respondent. It is this task-related view of the interview situation that is best understood by the researcher using interviews as a method of data collection. However, a sociological definition of a conversation is ‘an interpersonal behaviour event: an interaction in which the action of one is both a response and a stimulus to the other’. This draws attention to the fact that when people engage in conversation, however purposeful, there is an undercurrent of social and non-verbal interplay that may affect the nature of their co-operation in the conversation process. It is understanding both the task and social elements of the interview situation that makes interviewing a skilled task.