Methods As we were interested in attitudes and experiences of our subjects we decided to use a qualitative approach to conduct our study. We wished our respondents to define their attitudes and experiences using their own words and meanings therefore it was considered that quantitative data was not appropriate for such a study. Qualitative study is more in-depth and much less structured than a quantitative approach, generating a greater depth of information (Mason 1996) A semi-structured interview technique to gather our data. This was chosen because of the benefits that this method entails and because of the disadvantages of the standardized and non-standardized methods (Gilbert, 2001). The standardized model was discarded because although all respondents received the same questions in the same order the system lacked credibility due a number of facts. Firstly, not every respondent may have the same interpretation of a question thus answers could not be compared to any degree of certainty.
Secondly, the interviewer was unable to clarify any questions that the respondent did not fully comprehend. Most importantly, though, was the fact that the interviewer was unable to explore any area that our respondent unexpectedly enlightened us to, this also hindered us from asking any supplementary questions that may have furthered our findings (Punch, 1998). A non-structured approach was instantly ruled out as we wished to gage specific attitudes and experiences of drugs from our respondents. A non-standardized interview could have left us with an abundance of irrelevant material and little of any actual use.
The semi-structured method has many benefits. Not only does this technique give the interviewer room for scope to probe, clarify and alter his or her interview schedule on the spot but it is also relatively easy to code and analyse the information that is procured (Seidman, 1998). The Sample Our sample were four third year students, two males and two females. Third year was chosen as our sample year-group as this allowed the respondents time to have become fully integrated into the Stirling student 'life-style'. The sample was approached at random in the Stirling University union, 'The Studio'. Random individuals were asked if they were 3 rd year students and if so were they willing to take part in our survey.
The sample were informed of the purpose of our research and confirmed the area of questioning which we wished to pursue. The sample was told that the location for their interview was entirely at their own discretion. The location in which an interview is performed is widely considered to have a significant effect on the behaviour of the respondent (Gilbert, 2001). To allow the respondents to feel as at ease as possible, each interviewee was asked where he or she would like to be interviewed. Every respondent decided that their own home would be the most comfortable environment to conduct the interviews in. It was concluded that the same interviewer should interview all four of our respondents.
The primary reason for this was to make the interviews run as smoothly and as naturally as possible. Our interviewer could learn the schedule precisely and be prepared for any additional questions. Also, if we had used two interviewers our responses could have been accused of being unreliable, as our respondents would have received completely different modus operandi. The effect of the interviewer's sex was also taken into consideration. We believed a female should ask the questions as it has been claimed that women generate a greater amount of information from respondents as they are generally perceived to be less threatening to strangers (Gilbert, 2001). Ethics Due to the nature of the topic in question ethical issues were raised.
All participants had to receive informed consent before we could begin our interviews. Informed consent generally means that all participants should know that they are being used in research and that they give a written or verbal agreement of consent. Another ethical consideration is confidentiality. As our respondents were divulging information that was potentially incriminating, confidentiality and anonymity had to be assured. We gave a guarantee to our interviewee's that only their age and sex would be used in our report, there would be no reference to physical appearance or the area in the United Kingdom from which the student originated.
The problem with a verbal guarantee, though, is the fact that the respondents only had our word that their identity would remain confidential. With the benefit of hindsight it could be argued that with only our word as an agreement the respondents might have held back on some of their more illicit experiences. Recording We spent a considerable amount of time deliberating on which recording method would be most convenient for our interviews. The choice was between a technological method in the form of an audio tape-recorder or via a video camera, and a traditional method in the form of manual note taking. A decision was reached to have one person interviewing, taking brief notes on body language and the main re-occurring themes and the other partner would observe at the side, taking a detailed note of the interviewee's responses. By using this method of recording our interviewer could pay full attention to the answers and could concentrate on any further supplementary questions that may have arose.
This would let the interview flow as conversation like as possible, leaving the respondent feeling relaxed and at ease. This method of recording could though be open to criticism. The most obvious weakness of this method is the fact that the recording of the information is open to bias as the note-taker may only log data that he or she wants to record, ignoring information that may contradict a theory. Another disadvantage of note-taking by hand is that responses may be missed whilst writing a previous answer (Mason 1996). I believe we conquered these disadvantages by having the two note-takers as this would even-out bias and cover any vital missed information.