Interviews

Conducting a good interview is not easy. It is a skill that must be learned. Expert interviewers find that they must practice in order to keep their skills sharp. We do not expect you to be expert interviewers, but you can do a fine interview if you follow these guidelines.

Notice that we call the people we interview informants rather than subjects. Subjects are generally subjected to some procedure. As we are trying to learn about how people think about their worlds, the people who talk to us inform us. This is not to be confused with the word informer, which is used for people who provide information to the authorities.

Choose your informant carefully. Some people are easy to talk to. Others answer every question with single-word replies: "Yes", "Nope." Find someone who you are comfortable talking to.

The amount of time required for transcription will depend on many factors including the clarity of the recording, the amount and type of background noise, the amount the two speakers talk over each other, the speakerís voice quality (volume, pitch, and enunciation), and the speakerís choice of vocabulary, among others. You can do several things to make the transcription task manageable. First, find a quiet setting where you will not be interrupted. Second, set up the tape recorder so that it picks up your informantís voice and your voice clearly. Third, let your informant speak.

Your purpose in conducting the interview is to create a context in which your informant can tell you what they know or believe about something. It is not your job to judge whether what they believe is true or false. It is not your job to tell them what you think. Keep your objective in mind. It is easy in an interview to forget what you are doing and to say things that you think will impress the informant. This is a normal strategy for ordinary conversation, but it will get in the way of doing a good interview.

The first few minutes of your interview may seem awkward to both you and the informant. The informant may comment on the tape recorder or seem nervous. This is normal. It is also your opportunity to demonstrate some interviewing skill by putting your informant at ease.

While conducting the interview, listen carefully to what your informant says. If the informant bogs down and stops talking, it sometimes works to say, "Go on", or to repeat the last phrase the informant said.