Ethical issues in the use of in-depth interviews: literature review and discussion

Peter Allmark, Jonathan Boote, E. Chambers, Amanda Clarke, A. McDonnell, Andrew Thompson, Angela Tod

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This paper reports a literature review on the topic of ethical issues in in-depth interviews. The review returned three types of article: general discussion, issues in particular studies, and studies of interview-based research ethics. Whilst many of the issues discussed in these articles are generic to research ethics, such as confidentiality, they often had particular manifestations in this type of research. For example, privacy was a significant problem as interviews sometimes probe unexpected areas. For similar reasons, it is difficult to give full information of the nature of a particular interview at the outset, hence informed consent is problematic. Where a pair is interviewed (such as carer and cared-for) there are major difficulties in maintaining confidentiality and protecting privacy. The potential for interviews to harm participants emotionally is noted in some papers, although this is often set against potential therapeutic benefit. As well as these generic issues, there are some ethical issues fairly specific to in-depth interviews. The problem of dual role is noted in many papers. It can take many forms: an interviewer might be nurse and researcher, scientist and counsellor, or reporter and evangelist. There are other specific issues such as taking sides in an interview, and protecting vulnerable groups. Little specific study of the ethics of in-depth interviews has taken place. However, that which has shows some important findings. For example, one study shows participants are not averse to discussing painful issues provided they feel the study is worthwhile. Some papers make recommendations for researchers. One such is that they should consider using a model of continuous (or process) consent rather than viewing consent as occurring once, at signature, prior to the interview. However, there is a need for further study of this area, both philosophical and empirical.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-54
JournalResearch Ethics Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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