Fieldwork

Fieldwork

6. Applying a method in the field: Interviewing

Developing regular routines can be helpful to guide your research practice in the field. This includes routines dealing with:

  • interview preparation (including packing your equipment and paperwork for an interview),
  • conducting your interview (making sure you cover elements such as seeking consent prior to conducting the interview, checking your interview schedule or guide),
  • writing up fieldnotes during and after your interview, and
  • creating backup copies of your data and notes.

(a) Preparing for the interview: 

  • Be prepared for your interview, both in terms of knowledge – consider what questions you may be asked – and in practical terms.
  • Practice your interview a few times before you go. Arrange a time for the interview, as well as place (see below for more on how to choose a location where your interview participant feels comfortable).
  • Take your recorder, spare batteries or charger, and notebook with you, as well as your consent forms.
  • If you are paying people for your time, or providing food and drink, arrange that as well.
  • Be aware of yourself and your role; make sure you dress appropriately for the location, and if you need your ID, take it with you.
  • Consider how you will deal with sexist, racist, or other offensive views that may be made during the interview; there are no easy solutions.
  • Let someone know when and where you are going for your interview, and be safety conscious. Do not interview in a place where you or the participant feels vulnerable.
  • Know who to contact in your support network or at your institution if you experience violence, harassment or danger in the field. While such events may be unusual, knowing who to contact after a traumatic event will make it easier to get the help and support you need.

(b) At the interview: 

  • If you don’t already know the person, introduce yourself and the research. Explain why you want to interview them and why their views and experience are valued. Indicate how long the interview will take, as well as let them know about any follow up.
  • Review your various consent forms, orally or on paper. Make sure to note issues of confidentiality, anonymity, the security of data, and the right of the participant to withdraw at any point. Offer to provide a summary of the research results, as every participant has the right to see their transcript and recording.
  • Request permission to use your digital (or video) recorder and turn it on. Position it between your interviewee and yourself. Say a few sentences and then check that it is recording. You can use this time to remind the participant that they can request that the recorder be stopped at any stage of the interview.
  • Remember that is can taking time for participants to ‘warm up.’ Try to make your interviewee feel at ease; you can do this by including some introductory questions in your interview schedule, or by simply chatting with them a bit about your topic, or the current surroundings, for example.
  • Remember to actively listen.
  • Maintain focus in asking questions, while also being open, balanced, and sensitive to what your interview participant is saying.
  • Take notes in your research notebook during the interview. It is impossible to produce a complete transcript of an interview at the same time as conducting it, but your notes will be useful later when you analyse this text. They can also help you retain information, make observations, and mark follow-ups or points to return to later. Your interview notes should include:
    • When and where the interview took place
    • The general tone of the interview
    • How the interview participant is responding; shifts in emphasis
    • How you as the researcher are responding to or are involved in the discussion
    • Emotional responses
    • Key themes that are emerging
    • Things that surprise you
    • Things you will need to look into further
  • Remember to thank the participant at the end or set a time to continue the interview if you do not finish. 

(c) After the interview 

  • Take a few moments to write up some final observations, thoughts, questions or confusions that came out of the interview. Sometimes, after the digital recorder has been turned off, participants will comment further on your project or on something from your conversation. These reflections can provide further insight, but as they have not been included in your audio recording, you will want to make sure you include them in your notes.
  • Consider keeping a space for personal notes: either as part of your fieldwork diary or somewhere separate to work through your personal responses to the interview. This can be particularly useful after a difficult interview.
  • Email, text, or contact your research coordinator or supervisor when you have safely returned from your interview.

References:

Brinkmann, S., 2013. Chapter Eight: Conversations as Research: Philosophies of the Interview. Counterpoints, 354, pp.149-167.

DeVault, M.L., 1990. Talking and listening from women’s standpoint: Feminist strategies for interviewing and analysis. Social Problems, 37(1), pp.96-116.

Elwood, S.A. and Martin, D.G., 2000. “Placing” interviews: location and scales of power in qualitative research. The professional geographer, 52(4), pp.649-657.

Fernandez, R. and Griffiths, R., 2007. Portable MP3 players: innovative devices for recording qualitative interviews. Nurse researcher, 15(1).

Fetterman, D.M., 2009. Ethnography: Step-by-step (Vol. 17). Sage Publications. 

Fraser, A., 2007. Coded spatialities of fieldwork. Area, 39(2), pp.242-245.

Kasper, A.S., 1994. A feminist, qualitative methodology: A study of women with breast cancer. Qualitative Sociology, 17(3), pp.263-281.

Nelson, L., 1999. Bodies (and spaces) do matter: the limits of performativity. Gender, Place and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography, 6(4), pp.331-353.

Peake, L. 2018. Presentation at the ‘Workshop in Urban Feminist Research: Ethnographic Research Tools’, Ramallah, Palestine, July 2018.

Sin, C.H., 2003. Interviewing in ‘place’: the socio‐spatial construction of interview data. Area, 35(3), pp.305-312.