Thoughts, writing & snippets

Marguerite Koole, PhD

More on Two-Person Interviews (TPIs)

mkoole, · Categories: Identity, PhD Studies, Research · Tags: , , ,

For a description (Part 1) of Dr. David Morgan’s TPIs, please refer to my previous blog post.

The effects of structure on the TPI

The degree of structure you use in your interviews will affect the data you glean. Highly structured TPIs suggest greater interaction with the participants and the interviewer. The greater the structure the more the interviewers controls the questions and answers. Highly structured interviews allow a researcher to dig into issues in depth and in great detail. In a case in which the interviewer questions each TPI participant individually, the participants may build upon each other’s responses, but still answer the questions separately. This is sometimes referred to as a serial interview.

High-structure TPIs Low-structure TPIs

High Structure


Low Structure



On the other end of the continuum, a low-structured or unstructured TPI (which, I believe, is the intent of Morgan’s TPI method) will permit greater interaction between the participants themselves. In a low-structure TPI, the interviewer stimulates conversation through the asking of questions or by setting up tasks. Less structured interviews are more exploratory in nature. And, a researcher using an unstructured TPI approach will have more opportunity to observe interactions between the two participants.

Homogeneity vs. heterogeneity

This refers to the similarities and/or familiarity of the participants to each other. For example, are they students in the same program? Are they from the same country?

According to Morgan, focus groups usually involve homogenous groups. But, it is possible to do either with TPIs. In one-person interviews (OPIs), the rapport between the interviewer and the participant is very important. In focus groups and TPIs, the rapport between the participants is important. As this technique is yet still very un-researched, the impact upon the quality and kind of observational data derived from homogenous vs. heterogeneous participants is yet unknown. I suspect that the quality of such data is also very much related to the kind of study and the kind of data sought by the researcher.

The TPI setting

Since the goal of a TPI is to encourage conversation, the interviewers will place the participants into a comfortable arrangement in which they can face each other just as they would in a normal conversation. In a face-to-face TPI, this might mean that the participants are sitting somewhat adjacent to each other. The interviewer will place herself somewhat apart from the conversants. Of course, this will be dictated by cultural patterns of appropriate proximity.

But, how can one achieve this online? Using video-conferencing technology, I would recommend that the interviewer ask the participants to use their video cameras and any of the other tools available (instant messaging, etc.). Once the main questions have been asked or the activity is introduced, the interviewer can turn off her camera. In some cases, she can make her camera less prominent. In a case in which the activity might be to use a whiteboard or brainstorming software, the interviewer can allow the participants to take control.

Conversation starters

In many face-to-face situations such as classrooms or workshops, facilitators use various ice-breaker techniques. How can this be done online? Well, whenever I chat with someone in a different province or country, I am curious about their weather, time zone, seasons, etc. Morgan recommends that conversation starters are 1) easy to answer, 2) interesting to both parties, and 3) something on which they want to hear someone else’s opinion/experience. If the conversation starter is somewhat removed, then the interviewer must find a way to bring the conversation back to the topic of the interview.

For a description of Dr. David Morgan’s TPIs, please refer to my previous blog post.

David Morgan’s Two-Person Interviews (TPIs)

mkoole, · Categories: Identity, PhD Studies, Research · Tags: , , , , , ,

Presentation at Thinking Qualitatively Workshop Series offered through the International Institute for Qualitative Methodology. (June 22, 2011)

At first glance, this idea does not seem altogether that new. Yet, to my knowledge, no one other than Dr. David Morgan, a sociologist at Portland State University [oops! I thought he was from the U of A!] has conceptualized and named this form of interview format. Dr. Morgan acknowledged that other authors have mentioned “micro groups” and “mini-groups”, but there is not much in the literature. Please post a comment if you have seen any literature about this kind of interview.

To understand it, I will first outline the similarities and differences with regular one-person interviews and focus groups. This will be grossly simplified, but it allows a point of departure for an examination of TPIs.

One-person interviews

Diagram: one-person interview

In a conventional one-to-one interview, the interviewer communicates with a participant.

Focus group

Diagram: focus group

In a focus group, the interviewer facilitates a conversation. But, the participants then carry on, sometimes forgetting about the presence of the interviewer. Focus groups allow a researcher to accomplish at least two things: 1) ask questions, and 2) observe interactions among focus group members.

Two-person interviews (TPIs)

Diagram: Two-person interview

TPIs represent a hybrid of the focus group configuration. Naturally, the number of participants is more limited which reduces the logistics problems of gathering four to six people (or more) together for a meeting. TPIs also allow the interviewer to observe the interactions between the two participants. As such, one of the main goals is to encourage a conversation between the two participants.

According to his presentation, each time you add another person to the interview setting, you add additional complexity. In a dyadic situation, the participants exchange views bi-directionally. If a researcher adds an additional conversant (triad), there is a possibility for three separate conversations. The conversation can split.

Dr. Morgan illustrated how time is (possibly) shared within the three configurations above:

Interview time Configuration Time Data
1 hour session One-person 1 hour for the participant Questions answered; one perspectiveObservation of individual only
1 hour session TPI 30 minutes each Questions answered; two possible perspectivesObservation of interaction
1 hour session Focus group (6 people) 10 minutes each Questions answered; six possible perspectivesObservation of interaction


Next, I will write about some of the interesting issues that Dr. Morgan mentioned including: heterogeneous groups, homogeneous groups, under- and over-disclosure, interview structure, relationships and rapport, and backchannels. And, I will discuss how this might help my phenomenographic study.

See more on TPIs:

Explorations into qualitative interviewing techniques & issues

mkoole, · Categories: PhD Studies, Research · Tags: , ,

Essentials of Qualitative InterviewingOlson, K. (2011). Essentials of Qualitative Interviewing (Qualitative Essentials) (p. 112). Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press. Retrieved June 29, 2011, from

I recently attended an excellent week of workshops at the University of Alberta: Thinking Qualitatively Workshop Series offered through the International Institute for Qualitative Methodology. I took three workshops on various aspects of qualitative interviewing for a total of 9 hours.

One of the facilitators was Karen Olson whose book is the subject of this blog. I’m not going to quote too much from her book. But, I will say that it is a concise and easy-to-read book. I will only highlight out some of the ideas that are most important to me in my work.

The first chapter cautions the researcher to understand his/her perspective, particularly as it pertains to the field of research and its history and traditions. At the simplest level, one’s choice of interview format, selection of questions, delivery of questions, and analysis will be very tightly bound alongside the given perspective.

A clear idea of the research question is necessary to select participants. Olson suggests that the best participants are those with sufficient, current, and extensive knowledge/experience of the phenomena or concepts being investigated (pp. 26-27). This, of course raises a concern about how a researcher can judge whether or not certain participants have that level of experience. The answer to that will depend on the context, the question, etc.

This book (and presentation) introduced me to the concept of shadowed data: “data obtained by interviewing someone who knows the participant well” (p. 32). It is easy to pooh-pooh this idea straight off decrying the potential validity issues from gathering second-hand information. However, there are times when it is not possible to interview someone directly. If in that situation, I would recommend that the researcher openly discuss it in the final report.

The most common phrase that I hear amongst my fellow students is semi-structured interviews. However, I now wonder if they really mean guided interviews (p. 41-41). Guided interviews allow the interviewer to start an interview by asking a set of open questions as a starting point. The interview slowly takes shape as the conversation is co-constructed. Semi-structured interviews, according to Olson, are more common as follow-up interviews. Questions are drafted in accordance with data already uncovered in previous interviews. Whilst an interviewer conducting a semi-structured interview might open by prompting a participant if they wish to add to what they have previously offered, the rest of the questions are designed to clarify or probe further into some issues.

I won’t say too much about focus groups except for one general comment. Focus groups are often used when the researcher wishes to elicit answers to a set of questions, AND also wishes to observe reactions and interactions amongst a group of people discussing the questions (p. 41).

The interesting stuff:

When beginning the early interviews, the researcher should remember that although he or she may have developed some “guiding” questions, the objective is not to “guide” an interview. Indeed, the interviewer should avoid all subtle indications that this is intended, since this would be a major threat to the validity of the data. Rather one wishes to open a conversation with the participant. (p. 45)

This is one of the reasons I chose to take the 9 hours of workshops on interviewing. How does one conduct oneself in such as way so as to elicit information about a particular topic? How does one not contaminate the conversation by prompting and directing the participant too much? Olson’s book provides some examples of opening the conversation in a neutral, but directed way. Basically, the task is to create a comfortable space (p. 49) for communication in which the participants should have an opportunity to tell their stories rather than just answering a series of questions (p. 46).

Do not be afraid of silence. A lull in the conversation can allow the participant to reflect. And, in some cultures, patiently awaiting a response is respectful.

Something that I hadn’t thought of before (but sometimes do by accident) is ending the interview with a re-grounding question(s). In Olson’s work in healthcare, re-grounding is highly recommended. Some interviews can be very emotional experiences. The participants need some time to wrap up their thoughts and re-enter the world. I don’t think it is all that much different with less sensitive topics nor is it much different with online (distance) interviews.

Olson’s book touches upon interview modes. She discusses briefly some of the findings of researchers who contend that there are/are no differences in the results from face-to-face and mediated interviews. As with many other studies of the effects of modes on human activity (see the Clark and Kozma debate in distance education as an example), the opinions span the range of possibilities. In any case, all modes will allow data collection. But, I would suggest that researchers are transparent about which mode they used and that they openly discuss the limits and possibilities of these modes.

Finally, this short monologue is most useful because of its list of references . . . I am now off to locate some of Olson’s references in the databases . . . .