When it comes to interviews, I come back to my journalism background. My first interview was as a freshman writing a profile piece about a tennis player for the sports section–a mysterious assignment, as I don’t really like sports.
I talked to the player and a few of his teammates for a few minutes, recording the conversations in a tape recorder and making meaningless notes in a spiral notebook. I was terribly nervous, nervousness only matched by gawkiness, gawkiness only matched by social anxiety.
Overtime, I got good at interviews. I got better at putting people at ease with small talk, at taking short notes, quoting accurately. I built a whole ecology of interview practice–of ritual and method. Most of these interviews were face-to-face, short, with one or two meetings, often in a public place, and with largely innocuous conversations. For some stories, I did need to be careful, and often had long interviews that I transcribed. Some were outside and on the run. Others were behind closed doors. Some were relaxed. Others tense.
So when I started to prep for interviews this semester, I was confident. But, oh, experience is an unwieldy beast.
Some things seemed familiar, like the need to generate questions and the need to think through accuracy. But a few things were very different. First of all, I had to go through IRB. No problem, I thought, I had done an exempt form before–I just need to think this one out some more. Answer a few more slots. But when it came to thinking through procedures, questions, etc., I got pretty overwhelmed. What was I asking? Why? What about consent? And who? So I decided to do a pilot study.
The “who” was one of my biggest questions. I started snowballing for participants fairly early and had some luck. But I had to rely on their own willingness. A few didn’t reply. A few did, then drifted. Joelle Kivits’ experience with these similar pitfalls definitely resonated.
I also realized how much work it was to stay on top of things and to produce materials quickly. Fortunately, I didn’t need to build up too much rapport, as most of the participants were fairly content and excited about the topic, seeing it as fairly innocuous and interesting.
But the initial participant finding was tough–answering that “who,” I mean. It was a lot harder than simply sending a few e-mails to relevant people then meeting in a cafe to get quotes for a news story. I needed people who would fit the study, and I needed to find them by searching through the community as best as I could, with few leads.
Making the questions was also hard, knowing that they preferred e-mail over face-to-face. I needed to anticipate a lot, which is why I made a glossary of terms, just in case they didn’t understand what I meant. This made me feel like I was crafting a survey.
Even with all this foresight, however, I had to clarify some things through e-mails–so maybe it was an interview after all?
And now, the waiting. A few are almost done, they say, but I am still waiting. And trusting. Thinking of when and how to check in. But mostly waiting.
Also, here are a few more resources from my other methods class last semester:
James, Nalita, and Hugh Busher. “Internet Interviewing.” The Sage Handbook of Interview Research: The Complexity of the Craft. 2nd ed. Ed. Jaber F. Gubrium, James A. Holstein, Amir B. Marvasti, and Karyn D. McKinney, eds. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2012. 177-192.
Potter, Jonathan and Alexa Hepburn. “Eight Challenges for Interview Researchers.” The Sage Handbook of Interview Research: The Complexity of the Craft. Ed. Jaber F. Gubrium, James A. Holstein, Amir B. Marvasti, and Karyn D. McKinney. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks: SAGE, 2012. 555-570.
Wang, Jinjun, and Ying Yan. “The Interview Question.” The Sage Handbook of Interview Research: The Complexity of the Craft. 2nd ed. Ed. Jaber F. Gubrium, James A. Holstein, Amir B. Marvasti, and Karyn D. McKinney, eds. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2012. 231-242.
Selfe, Cynthia L., and Gail. E. Hawisher. “Exceeding the Bounds of the Interview: Feminism, Mediation, Narrative, and Conversations about Digital Literacy.” Writing Studies Research in Practice: Methods and Methodologies. Ed. Lee Nickoson and Mary P. Sheridan. Southern Illinois UP, 2012.
Chin, Elaine. “Ethnographic Interviews and Writing Research: A Critical Examination of the Methodology.” Speaking about Writing: Reflections on Research Methodology. Ed. Peter Smagorinsky. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1994. 247-274.
Griffin, Gabriele. “Interviewing.” Research Methods for English Studies. Ed. Gabriele Griffin. 2nd ed. Edinburgh UP, 2013. 179-199.
Lucas, Brad E., and Margaret M. Strain. “Keeping the Conversation Going: The Archive Thrives on Interviews and Oral History.” Working in the Archives: Practical Research Methods for Rhetoric and Composition. Ed. Alexis E. Ramsey, Wendy B. Sharer, Barbara L’Eplattenier, and Lisa S. Mastrangelo. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2009. 259-277.
Roulston, Kathryn. “The Pedagogy of Interviewing.” The Sage Handbook of Interview Research: The Complexity of the Craft. Ed. Jaber F. Gubrium, James A. Holstein, Amir B. Marvasti, and Karyn D. McKinney. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks: SAGE, 2012. 61-74.