How Criminologists use Observational and Interview Research

A criminologist makes a study of behavioral patterns that they can use to profile criminals and that help law enforcement and private organizations in possibly narrowing a suspect field. There are several ways that this information may be collected and this does not necessarily have to be collected by the user of the information in order to be used in a criminal profile. The techniques used to obtain this information are also varied but two of the main research techniques involve interviews and observations.

The Structured Interview

A structured interview is often a one-on-one interview where a specific order is followed and the interviewer does not stray from this intended line of questions. Often times the interviewer will explain why the information is needed and from there the interview process is followed right down the line, asking questions as they were written with no deviations and then waiting for responses which will be recorded either in a notebook or on tape for future use. These formal interviews are more often the kind of interviews that can be expected by someone who is either not familiar with the nature of the interview or was hired specifically to obtain the data needed.

The Unstructured Interview

An unstructured interview is one in which there is often no set questions and may not follow any specific lines of questioning. In opening there may be a few initial questions in order to get the responder or responders going in the right direction, but once the process is started there may be no further specific questions. Of the two interview techniques the unstructured is far more difficult to gauge as there is no structure to the questions and participants may veer off the intended topic quite easily.

For a criminologist the unstructured interview would have little to no use as the questions are not specific to any data they may need to obtain. A structured interview allows the interviewer to try to elicit the information that is needed or required to complete their research. With observational research there are also two distinct techniques.

Participant Observation

While this may seem to be the most common form or observation the only way to be a true participant in the group is to become one of the group which means the observer must integrate themselves into the culture of the observational group. To be accepted into a different cultural group may take months or even years and is neither time or cost efficient when it comes to criminologist observation techniques.

Direct Observation

To directly observe participants you do not have to become a member of their group or culture but the researcher needs to remain as unobtrusive as possible to get true observations of the intended group. Direct observation also allows the observer to have a more detached view of the group or person. Direct observation can also be done with the use of video equipment so the most unobtrusive observation can be done.

For the criminologist, direct observation is obviously going to be the easier and less time consuming way to observe and retain the research that is needed to complete the data they are accumulating.