February 28, 2010

“Everything you do while in the collection situation signals the informants: the expressions on your face, the questions you ask, the attention you pay to your recording machine. You’re constantly curing them about what mater to you and what doesn’t.”

The author of the chapter “Interviewing” in Bruce Jackson’s Fieldwork started off with an example of a bad interview–where a student emails his brother to ask their police detective father questions for a class project. Though it’s a bad example, because it’s blatantly bad, it gets the point across.

1. You should always be prepared with the right amount of background information.. so you don’t ask questions in a set amount of time you are interviewing your person.
2. Don’t let someone else ask the questions for you.
3. Shouldn’t be a stagnant Q&A–allow conversation to flow freely, so people can.

Bruce Jackson in the chapter “Fieldwork,” suggests that the interviewer should:
1. Act natural to allow for the best kind of interview: informative and casual. Allow what linguists calls “code-switching” …adaption of vocabulary and postures deemed appropriate for the setting of the interview.

2. The interviewer should work to speak less.

“So your problem is to keep information flowing as freely as possible, to remain deeply eough involved in the discussion to let your informants inform you, but distant enough so they’ll deliver more than what you came there thinking you’d find.”

3. Bring a recorder.. or not.

“Lean back and forget it. Have a good time. Tell yourself to remember as much as you can and be sure to make notes later.”

I have conducted many interviews with people who wanted to be interviewed and people who don’t–having a recorder eases my mind and my nerves because then I can focus on taking notes about the setting… take note of what the person is wearing or what his mannerisms now. I like working these small details that make up typical magazine features into current news stories.

And I believe recorders ensure accuracy and gives you back up when you needed–one people I interviewed regarding the incidence of sexual assault on campus said I quoted her wrong.. and with the recorder I was able to double check, and play back the exact portion of the interview that was disputed.

The recorder, I feel, is the most important tool in interviewing, transcribing and writing.

4. Keep your interest.

I greatly agree with this sentiment because nothing will guarantee the person will want to end the interviewer or stop disclosing information if you seem bored. During the interview, I take notes and nod fairly often to indicate I am listening. I also put stars next to things that I want them to divulge in later and tweak my questions according to what they are most interested in talking about.


1. Smile & be friendly. The more personable you are, the easier it will be for them to open up to you.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about things that might seem simple… better to get it right in the article than but ask at all.
3. Plan out tentative questions that you want to ask, but don’t stick with it. Definitely go with the flow of conversation. Ask about things that are relevant to what the person is naturally talking about.
4. Keep in touch with your contacts… you never know when you’ll need to talk to them again. Always be courteous and say thank you no matter what.
5. It is natural to be nervous to question someone about something they might not want to talk about. But if you’re well-prepared and fully armed with facts, nerves will be eased.


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