The ethnographic interview is a technique used in qualitative research. It involves participant observation and sometimes immersion in a culture or group in order to experience mores and rituals. The interview usually occurs in a one-on-one setting with a recorder present.

Purpose and Context

The ethnographic interview, often used in the fields of anthropology and sociology, takes place in order to gather data on the nature of the people or culture the interviewers have chosen to study. The interviewers focus on a set of concerns in the context of a set of demographics, behaviors and patterns of the group under study.


Ethnographic studies often take place on a micro level in work or community settings. The interviewers determine the area of focus, such as a specific behavior or pattern of behaviors, and ask questions about the context of the behavior in a particular setting.

By gathering a sample of participants who participate in the behaviors in the context selected, interviewers can gather data on the norms, rules or reactions demonstrated and spoken around the issue of concern.

Tips and Techniques

The interviewers must take care not to indicate a preferred outcome, instead establishing an interview protocol and observation recording formats before initiating interviews. Interviews conducted in a natural setting, such as the workplace, along with demographic and icebreaker questions, can set a comfort level in the process. Encourage storytelling and observation of task completion during the process. Ask interviewees to show you rather than simply tell you. The interviewers should debrief with each other and write up notes immediately following each interview.


The ethnographic study will benefit from a larger sample size. The more people interviewed, the less individual differences will skew the study conclusions. The ethnographic study is not a focus group (a collection of reactions to a topic). The interview follows a goal-oriented protocol in order to describe a pattern of behavior and notes the meaning assigned to it by the group members. This is a thematic analysis approach to interpreting the data.