Email Interviewing


Email interviewing is an internet-related data collection method and is considered an effective interview technique similar to the more traditional method of face to face interviewing.[1] A typical interview in social science research involves two-way communication between an interviewer who is guided by a protocol, attempting to obtain information that will reveal knowledge which addresses the research questions of the project. Email interviews can be used in structured (fixed set of questions asked in an unalterable order), semi-structured (a fixed series of issues that can be in any order) and open-ended format (without any order or set questions or issues to be discussed). Conducting interviews utilizing information technology or otherwise referred to as online, computer-assisted communication has the capacity to transform, or the very least enhance the interviewing process.

Relevant Characteristics

* The email interview is conducted online and through textual communication. It is a computer-mediated conversation; think of it as conversing in text, where one does not have to think about what to wear or what time it is. You could be wearing your pajamas and email interviewing at 3 a.m. In relation to time, the exchanges between the interviewer and interviewee are asynchronous or synchronous, with gaps of time between bursts of communication that can range from seconds to hours or days. In terms of space, the exchange takes place through computer-mediated communication or screen-based text. Through the e-interview, the virtual world expands the social encounter beyond face to face interviewing. Impressions are made from our textronic messages.
*Email interviewing is a viable tool for mixed methods approaches. As an Internet-based method, it is ideal for researchers who want to use the Internet for qualitative research to improve or maintain the quality of their data. With a shift in interviewing to more observation and less structured (in-depth) as opposed to a structured interview, email interviewing provides a timely, cost effective way to limited-access research participants.[2]
*According to Meho, the goal of both observation and in-depth interview methods is to improve the understanding of social and cultural phenomena and processes rather than to produce objective facts about reality and make generalizations to a given population. These goals reflect the aim of the researcher by utilizing email interviewing to gain virtual insight into the lives of participants.
* In email, a new linguistic pattern emerge, for example, “paralanguage” as in hehehe for laughter, lol for ‘laugh out loud,’ similar to body language affecting meanings of words; quality, tone, facial expressions and gestures. These different iterations are fundamental to the communication having the conversational characteristics of a good interview.

"Method Made Easy"
1. Starting the Interview- establish rapport by developing trust through mutual disclosure and repeated interaction. The conversation should start with communicating the research objectives, methods, as well as privacy issues. It would be appropriate to send the informed consent form at this stage.
2. Getting to know each other- is essential in setting up the basis of the interview relationship. Understanding and perceptions of others have to be negotiated by text. Follow the same kind of textual discourse of the person as they respond back to you.
3. Reassurance and Being ‘There’- the interviewee looks for and needs signs of encouragement in order to pursue the interview exchange. Email communication is constructed as a continuous back and forth between informal and formal, otherwise known as interviewing and conversing.
4. Sending Reminders, Notifying Absences - A significant risk of email interviewing is participants terminating the email exchange, dropping out without replying to questions and reminders. Sample reminder:
“Haven’t heard from you in a while I wondered if you still wished to continue the interview?”[3]
5. Handling Sensitive Questions - the asynchronicity of the communication is the key to the reflection process: both the researcher and the participant can take time to answer, also can re-discuss previous answers and attempt to elaborate on ideas expressed earlier.
6. Deepening the relationship- Researchers have found that online interviewing takes twice as long as face to face interviews, but the preservation of personal contact throughout and prolonging the interview situation has produced in-depth data in qualitative research.

1. Tell the person about how you found their email address and why you are contacting them.
2. Provide information about the nature of the interview.
3. Give instructions about a deadline, especially if your research has to be completed within a
certain period of time.
4. Give reassurance about their responses being an honest, open dialogue.
5. Provide information about the informed consent requirements of your research protocol.

• Gives both the researcher and the interviewee the ability to manage the presence and presentation; it is an open environment to go back and change answers, reflect and expand on them as well;
• Free of cost; if there is no reimbursement and already has a computer, email, etc.;
• Travel and Accessibility Concerns-participants live in another country or hard to reach places, are physically handicapped and/or undergoing medically challenging situations;
• Anonymity-socially taboo practices (i.e. researching swingers, sex workers), creates an open environment for free exchange of information;
• Automatic transcription-no need to transcribe the interviews;
• Overrides the importance of the researcher being “on their game.” With face to face interviews, the interviewer has to be adept at cueing and asking probing questions;
• Researcher can be working with a set of interviews simultaneously.


• In qualitative research using open-ended questions, email interviewing does not have a facility for two-way communication between the researcher and the participant;
• Many possible participants may not have access to technology and therefore would not be able to participate;
• Legal & ethical implications with respect to human rights issues, such as free speech and privacy concerns when contacting respondents in other countries;
• Nonverbal communication is non-existent therefore there can be no analysis of speech patterns or conversational discourse analysis, i.e. speech patterns, pauses, hesitations, and other verbal cues.


Since the email interview is in text, it is the transcription and the analysis would proceed the same way as traditional research. Given that the data is in electronic format, coding for themes, cultural domains, and descriptive data can be inputted into software programs and/or excel sheets.

Method in Context

• E-interviews can contribute in understanding individual identity formation, how people make sense of their lives and the lives of others, through stories or narratives. Email interviewing can increase the interviewee’s reflexivity by providing the time and space for the person to respond about their experiences, can take the time to reflect on their answers, by rereading what they wrote, can draw together their personal identities and self-concepts to produce a deeper richer view of life.[4]
• E-interviews can become a site for narrative production by providing a ‘bounded space’ -linking individuals that are geographically dispersed, but have similar stories, as a ‘repository’ of stories which allows both the researcher and interviewee an opportunity for deeper reflection and understanding (James 2007).
• This method is useful to a researcher investigating the relationship between the psychological impacts of health challenges, particularly when a person’s experience is hard to talk about face to face. The impersonal nature of the email interview helps people disclose experiences they would not be willing to otherwise relate.[5]

Email Introduction Example

Dear ___:

I’m contacting you regarding your interest in my research project about leadership and your response from the website to participate in an interview. First of all, I would like to thank you very much for your cooperation.
As briefly explained on the research website, I would like to conduct interviews with Internet users who use the internet for daily tasks. My main objective is to understand why and how some people become leaders, and what I want to find out are people’s personal definitions of a leader.
I propose to conduct the interview by email. Besides being a practical method to enlist participants from geographically diverse places, it is also convenient as it allows the exchange of questions and answers at a pace which suits you. In previous interviews with participants, they emailed me their answers fluctuating between several times a week while others answered when their work and family schedule allowed them to do so.
There is no right or wrong answer, you are free to answer in a few sentences or long paragraphs, it is your interview and you determine how you would like to proceed. Agreeing to participate in your response to this email will suffice the informed consent on your part.

Thank you again for your help and your time. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Kindest regards,
Mary Green, Principal Investigator (Your name, title, affiliation here)
Master Student, Applied Anthropology
University of South Florida
(Your contact information: Email address, mailing address, Phone Number)

Online References
  1. ^ Fraley, R. Chris. How to conduct behavioral research over the Internet: A beginner's guide to HTML and CGI/Perl. Guilford Press, 2004.
  2. ^
    Meho, Lokman I. E-Mail Interviewing in Qualitative Research: A Methodological Discussion.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology Vol.57, Issue 10. 2006.
  3. ^
    Hine, Christine. "Virtual ethnography: Modes, varieties, affordances." The SAGE handbook of online research methods (2008): 257-270.
  4. ^
    James, Nalita. "The use of email interviewing as a qualitative method of inquiry in educational research." British Educational Research Journal 33.6 (2007): 963-976.
  5. ^
    Hunt, N., & McHale, S. (2007). A practical guide to the e-mail interview.Qualitative Health Research, 17(10), 1415-1421.