Critical Ethnography on Planning an Interview Paper
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Critical Ethnography on Planning an Interview Paper
An interview helps to answer the research question(s) motivating your study by gathering concrete details and stories from various people.
In her book Critical Ethnography: Method, Ethics, and Performance, D. Soyini Madison offers this advice:
“When you first begin to formulate questions, a useful exercise is to reread your research question or problem over several times and then ask yourself, ‘If this is what I am to understand, then what is it that I need to know about it to answer the questions or address the problem?’ You will then list everything of interest that comes to mind” (p. 31).
It’s certainly possible to conduct an interview by phone, especially if the interviewee is not local, but a face-to-face conversation, in which you can note physical details and body language, is preferable.
The ways writers incorporate interviews into their writing appears almost seamless, but keep in mind that a finished text hides the process that went into a successful interview.
You don’t see the planning that occurs. Writers have to make appointments with the people they interview, develop a script or list of questions before the interview, and test the questions beforehand to see if they’re likely to lead to the kind of information they’re seeking.
In other words, the key to a successful interview is preparation. The following information should help you plan your interview and prepare you for writing down your results.
Plan the Interview
You’ll want to do some preliminary research to identify people who can help you understand more about your topic: What kind of expertise or experience do they have?
Then you have to contact them to find out if they are willing to be interviewed. You can send a brief e-mail or letter to initiate a conversation and then follow up with a phone call.
Based on our own experience, it is important to explain the project for participants in plain terms. In fact, when you contact potential participants, we suggest you do so in writing and address the following: Who are you? What are you doing, and why?
What will you do with what you find? What are possible benefits and risks? How will you assure confidentiality? How often and how long would you like to meet for interviews?
If you are planning to record the interview — always a wise idea — make sure each individual consent to being recorded. Then make the necessary arrangements. For example, you may need to reserve a room where you can conduct your interview without being disturbed.
Try to choose a location that is convenient for the individual(s) you want to interview and familiar, such as a room in a public library.
It’s important to set up appointments with people early. To keep on schedule, list the names of people who have agreed to be interviewed:
Interviewee 1: _________________ Response? __ yes/no __ date: _______
Interviewee 2: _________________ Response? __ yes/no __ date: _______
Interviewee 3: _________________ Response? __ yes/no __ date: _______
Prepare Your Script
As you prepare the script of questions for your interview, keep coming back to the question motivating your research. To what extent will the questions you want to ask in your interview enable you to answer the broader question motivating your research?
That is, what is the story you want to tell in your research? The more specific the questions you ask, the more specific the answers or story that the person you interview will tell.
In any conversation, you want to build rapport and perhaps establish some common ground. More than getting information from someone, an interview can serve as a means to produce knowledge collaboratively and in ways that are mutually satisfying to you and the people you want to talk to.
To create this kind of conversation, you can help the interviewee feel at ease and then move on to the issues you want to learn more about.
Start with nonthreatening questions.
For example, “How long have you been teaching writing?” “When did you start teaching writing in a hybrid classroom?” “What digital tools do you use to teach writing in a hybrid classroom?”
Ask open-ended questions.
Your questions should encourage the person you are interviewing to tell stories that will help you learn about your subject. This means phrasing questions in ways that avoid simple yes/no answers.
For instance, you might ask for an explanation of how children at a homeless center can overcome the obstacles they face as opposed to asking something like this:
“Do you think children can overcome the obstacles they face?” Asking for an explanation invites someone to describe the process by which overcoming obstacles is possible.
In turn, you can ask specific questions such as the following: “Can you tell me about a specific instance to illustrate the extent to which children can overcome the obstacles they face?” “Can you help me understand what made this possible?”
Avoid leading questions.
It may be tempting to ask leading questions to keep the conversation going in an interview or to fill in something that an individual implies but does not actually say.
For example, “Do you think that the food industry has contributed to the problem of obesity?” “So, are you saying that the government should formulate policies to regulate the industry?”
In each case, the question supplies a possible answer, which is counterproductive. You want to learn from your interviewees, not feed them answers. The questions you ask should allow the person you are interviewing to come to his or her own conclusions.
Alternatively, you can ask: “Tell me more about what you are saying about the government’s role.” Similarly, try not to reinforce or judge the answers that an interviewee gives, such as “That’s what I was thinking.” “That’s great.” “You’re right.”
Reinforcing or judging answers may indicate to an interviewee that there is a correct answer to the questions you are asking. Instead, you want this person to explore his or her thoughts in an open, honest way.
Only share experiences occasionally.
Although we have suggested that conducting interviews can be like conversations, you should resist providing your own experiences and stories.
Listen to answers and follow up with questions that encourage the person you are interviewing to elaborate.
Rehearse and then revise the script.
After you develop a script of questions, rehearse it with your writing group or a friend who can play the role of the person you want to interview.
In doing so, you want to get a sense of how an interviewee is going to respond to your questions. The following questions can serve as a guide for assessing the interview and what you might change:
What would you point to as an effective exchange?
What questions helped you get concrete details to tell the story you wanted to tell?
What would you point to as an example of an exchange that didn’t go as well as you had hoped? How would you explain what happened?
What questions would you rephrase if you were to do the interview again?
To what extent do you feel that you might have lost some opportunities to follow up?
Are there follow-up questions you should have asked?
After you answer these questions, revise the script to improve the content, order, and pacing of your questions.
Conduct the Interview
On the day before the interview, contact the individual you plan to interview to confirm that he or she remembers the time of the interview and knows how to find the location where the interview will take place.
Also, as you prepare for your interview, look over your questions and make sure you know how to use your recording software and device and that your device has sufficient capacity for the interview. Be on time. Have a brief conversation to put the interviewee at ease and then ask this person to read and sign the consent form (see Figure 13.2 ).
Explain use of technology.
Explain why recording the interview is necessary (“Your responses are really important to me. I will take some notes as you talk, but I don’t want to miss anything you have to say. As a result, I will record our conversation so I can revisit the important things you tell me”).
Describe the interview process.
Explain what types of questions you will ask in the interview (“Today, I’m going to ask you questions about school and your family”). In addition, explain why you’re interested in knowing this information (“I want to learn more about you and your family so I can understand what techniques for school, family, etc. are helpful for you”).
Keep the interview conversational.
Use your script as a guide, but be flexible, treating the interview as a conversation. This might mean following the direction that the person you interview takes in answering a question.
Listen. Don’t interrupt. That is, you might ask what you think is a pointed question and this person might begin to tell a story that may not seem relevant.
Let the person finish and patiently return to the questions you would like this person to address. You can also try rephrasing your question(s) to be more specific about the information you need. If you think at some point that the interviewee is implying something of special interest to you, ask for clarification.
If any interviewee is silent for a while after you ask a question, be patient and don’t immediately repeat or ask another question.
The interviewee may need time to gather his or her thoughts or understand the question. After some time has passed, you can ask this person the question again or ask another question.
Keep track of important questions.
Toward the end of the interview, check your script for important questions you may have forgotten to ask. If there are several, try to ask only the most important ones in the time remaining. You can also ask to have a follow-up meeting to ensure that you have gotten the information you need.
Follow up after the interview is over.
Continue getting to know the interviewee. Even though the formal interview is done, you still want this person to feel as though he or she matters to you.
Just because this person has completed the interview doesn’t mean that his or her relationship with the research project is over.
Make Sense of the Interview
Conducting an interview is only part of the challenge; you then have to make sense of what was said. That process involves four steps:
Familiarize yourself with the conversation. If you recorded the interview, listen to it a couple of times to become really familiar with what was said. Read through your notes several times too.
Transcribe the interview. Transcribing entails listening carefully to and typing up the audio recording of your interview to help you analyze the conversation.
A transcript provides a more manageable way to identify key points in the interview, details that you might miss if you only listened to the interview, and stories that you might recount in your research.
Transcribing an interview is an important part of doing this kind of research, but it is time-consuming. If you use transcription software to save time, you will still need to compare your transcript to your recording for accuracy.
Therefore, you need to plan accordingly. An hour-long interview usually takes about three hours to transcribe.
Analyze the interview. Read through the interview again. Look for answers to the questions motivating your research, and look for recurring patterns or themes.
Make a list of those ideas relevant to the issues you intend to focus on, especially evidence that might support your argument.
Find one good source. Using the themes, you identify in your analysis as a guide, find one good source that relates to your interview in some way.
Maybe your subject’s story fits into an educational debate (for example, public versus private education). Or maybe your subject’s story counters a common conception about education (that inner-city schools are hopelessly inadequate). You’re looking for a source you can link to your interview in an interesting and effective way.
Turn Your Interview into an Essay
Try to lay out in paragraphs the material you’ve collected that addresses the question motivating your research and the focus of your paper. In a first draft, you might take these steps:
State your argument, or the purpose of your essay. What do you want to teach your readers?
Provide evidence to support your thesis. What examples from your reading, observations, or interviews do you want to offer your readers? How do those examples illuminate your claim?
Place quotations from more than one source in as many paragraphs as you can, so that you can play the quotations off against one another. What is significant about the ways you see specific quotations “in conversation” with one another? How do these conversations between quotations help you build your own argument?
Consider possible counterarguments to the point you want to make.
Help readers understand what is at stake in adopting your position.
Steps to Interviewing
Plan the interview. After you’ve identified the people you might like to talk to, contact them to explain your project and set up appointments if they are willing to participate.
Prepare your script. Draft your questions, rehearse them with your classmates or friends, and then make revisions based on their responses.
Conduct the interview. Be flexible with your script as you go, making sure to take good notes even if you are recording the interview.
Make sense of the interview. Review the recording and your notes of the interview, transcribe the interview, analyze the transcript, and connect the conversation to at least one good source.
Turn your interview into an essay. State your argument, organize your evidence, use quotes to make your point, consider counterarguments, and help your readers understand what’s at stake.
QUALITY OF RESPONSE NO RESPONSE POOR / UNSATISFACTORY SATISFACTORY GOOD EXCELLENT Content (worth a maximum of 50% of the total points) Zero points: Student failed to submit the final paper. 20 points out of 50: The essay illustrates poor understanding of the relevant material by failing to address or incorrectly addressing the relevant content; failing to identify or inaccurately explaining/defining key concepts/ideas; ignoring or incorrectly explaining key points/claims and the reasoning behind them; and/or incorrectly or inappropriately using terminology; and elements of the response are lacking. 30 points out of 50: The essay illustrates a rudimentary understanding of the relevant material by mentioning but not full explaining the relevant content; identifying some of the key concepts/ideas though failing to fully or accurately explain many of them; using terminology, though sometimes inaccurately or inappropriately; and/or incorporating some key claims/points but failing to explain the reasoning behind them or doing so inaccurately. Elements of the required response may also be lacking. 40 points out of 50: The essay illustrates solid understanding of the relevant material by correctly addressing most of the relevant content; identifying and explaining most of the key concepts/ideas; using correct terminology; explaining the reasoning behind most of the key points/claims; and/or where necessary or useful, substantiating some points with accurate examples. The answer is complete. 50 points: The essay illustrates exemplary understanding of the relevant material by thoroughly and correctly addressing the relevant content; identifying and explaining all of the key concepts/ideas; using correct terminology explaining the reasoning behind key points/claims and substantiating, as necessary/useful, points with several accurate and illuminating examples. No aspects of the required answer are missing. Use of Sources (worth a maximum of 20% of the total points). Zero points: Student failed to include citations and/or references. Or the student failed to submit a final paper. 5 out 20 points: Sources are seldom cited to support statements and/or format of citations are not recognizable as APA 6th Edition format. There are major errors in the formation of the references and citations. And/or there is a major reliance on highly questionable. The Student fails to provide an adequate synthesis of research collected for the paper. 10 out 20 points: References to scholarly sources are occasionally given; many statements seem unsubstantiated. Frequent errors in APA 6th Edition format, leaving the reader confused about the source of the information. There are significant errors of the formation in the references and citations. And/or there is a significant use of highly questionable sources. 15 out 20 points: Credible Scholarly sources are used effectively support claims and are, for the most part, clear and fairly represented. APA 6th Edition is used with only a few minor errors. There are minor errors in reference and/or citations. And/or there is some use of questionable sources. 20 points: Credible scholarly sources are used to give compelling evidence to support claims and are clearly and fairly represented. APA 6th Edition format is used accurately and consistently. The student uses above the maximum required references in the development of the assignment. Grammar (worth maximum of 20% of total points) Zero points: Student failed to submit the final paper. 5 points out of 20: The paper does not communicate ideas/points clearly due to inappropriate use of terminology and vague language; thoughts and sentences are disjointed or incomprehensible; organization lacking; and/or numerous grammatical, spelling/punctuation errors 10 points out 20: The paper is often unclear and difficult to follow due to some inappropriate terminology and/or vague language; ideas may be fragmented, wandering and/or repetitive; poor organization; and/or some grammatical, spelling, punctuation errors 15 points out of 20: The paper is mostly clear as a result of appropriate use of terminology and minimal vagueness; no tangents and no repetition; fairly good organization; almost perfect grammar, spelling, punctuation, and word usage. 20 points: The paper is clear, concise, and a pleasure to read as a result of appropriate and precise use of terminology; total coherence of thoughts and presentation and logical organization; and the essay is error free. Structure of the Paper (worth 10% of total points) Zero points: Student failed to submit the final paper. 3 points out of 10: Student needs to develop better formatting skills. The paper omits significant structural elements required for and APA 6th edition paper. Formatting of the paper has major flaws. The paper does not conform to APA 6th edition requirements whatsoever. 5 points out of 10: Appearance of final paper demonstrates the student’s limited ability to format the paper. There are significant errors in formatting and/or the total omission of major components of an APA 6th edition paper. They can include the omission of the cover page, abstract, and page numbers. Additionally the page has major formatting issues with spacing or paragraph formation. Font size might not conform to size requirements. The student also significantly writes too large or too short of and paper 7 points out of 10: Research paper presents an above-average use of formatting skills. The paper has slight errors within the paper. This can include small errors or omissions with the cover page, abstract, page number, and headers. There could be also slight formatting issues with the document spacing or the font Additionally the paper might slightly exceed or undershoot the specific number of required written pages for the assignment. 10 points: Student provides a high-caliber, formatted paper. This includes an APA 6th edition cover page, abstract, page number, headers and is double spaced in 12’ Times Roman Font. Additionally, the paper conforms to the specific number of required written pages and neither goes over or under the specified length of the paper.
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