What qualitative researchers can learn from studies that examine interaction in research interviews

Almost 30 years ago, Lucy Suchman and Brigette Jordan (1990) published an article in which they closely examined how survey interviewers posed questions to participants, and what happened next. They found that the delivery of scripted questions without deviation to ensure that people were asked the same questions, in the same way, was very difficult to do. Interviewees also have problems responding to questions for which fixed answers do not match their perceptions or experiences. Research analyzing the delivery of survey interviews has since expanded on this work (Houtkoop-Steenstra, 2000; Maynard, Houtkoop-Steenstra, van der Zouwen, & Schaeffer, 2002; Schaeffer & Maynard, 2002). Other researchers have examined the delivery of questions in other forms of surveys, such as quality of life assessments (M. Rapley & Antaki, 1998). Again, research findings complicate our understanding of survey delivery as straightforward. For example, how researchers deliver survey questions can literally create “happy” people (Houtkoop-Steenstra & Antaki, 1997).

Such is the case for any kind of interview, and researchers have explored numerous features of interaction in qualitative research interviews. In my own work, I have examined how researchers contribute to the generation of complaints, finding that how an interviewer responds to a complaint can lead to its reframing on the part of the interviewee (Roulston, 2000). There are innumerable topics that might be examined. Here are some of the interactional phenomena that researchers have examined:

  • Laughter (Grønnerød, 2004)
  • Reported private thoughts (Barnes & Moss, 2007)
  • The impersonal “you” (Myers & Lampropoulou, 2012)
  • Orientation to the materiality of the interview context (recording devices, pets etc.) (Caronia, 2015; Michael, 2004)
  • The development of rapport (Prior, 2017)

In my forthcoming book, Interactional studies of qualitative research interviews (Roulston, 2019b), authors examine a range of interviews. The book is organized into two main parts, with an introduction and a conclusion. The book opens with a review of the literature the examines interactional features of interviewing that updates an earlier review I conducted (Roulston, 2006). Part II of the book explores the interactional details of interviewer-interviewee identities and knowledge production (Roulston, 2019, p. 24), including:

how the identity work involved in discussing an impairment is managed in research contexts (Williams, 2019); how interviewers and interviewees overtly attend to the epistemic rights and responsibilities to “know” that each are thought to possess (Roulston, 2019a); how an interviewer and interviewee collaboratively produce the identities of “researchers” and “feminists” within the course of an interview (Herron, 2019); how an interviewer manages the conduct of interviews with children (Smith, 2019); and how advice-seeking and self-praise are collaboratively accomplished in a series of interview in which the interviewer has a prior and ongoing relationship (teacher-student) with the interviewee (Shelton, 2019).

Part II of the book explores the conversational resources and social actions produced interviews (Roulston, 2019, p. 25), including:

how an interviewee uses more than one language to respond to an interviewer’s questions – and in so doing, constructs accounts that vary considerably in depth of elaboration (Ohta & Prior, 2019); how speakers sort out the framework for participating in research interviews and what counts as useful data as an ongoing matter of concern (Veronesi, 2019); the collaborative work and conversational resources employed by speakers in managing disagreeing viewpoints within focus group interaction (Jung, 2019); how an interviewer demonstrates listenership in the interests of developing rapport over a sequence of interviews (Pope, 2019), and how speakers use discursive strategies to mitigate descriptions (Almeida, 2019).

The book concludes with a review of the way(s) of interviewing used by researchers, as well as ideas for further research (T. Rapley, 2019). Having examined interview interaction for 20 years, I continue to be astonished at the artful ways that interviewers and interviewees engage with one another. There is still much to explore and more to be learned!

Kathy Roulston

References

Almeida, C. A. d. (2019). Discourse strategies of mitigation in an oral corpus of narratives of life experiences collected in interviews. In K. Roulston (Ed.), Interactional studies of qualitative interviews (pp. 239-268). Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Barnes, R., & Moss, D. (2007). Communicating a feeling. Discourse Studies, 9(2), 123-148. doi:doi:10.1177/1461445607075339

Caronia, L. (2015). Totem and taboo: the embarrassing epistemic work of things in the research setting. Qualitative Research, 15(2), 141-165. doi:10.1177/1468794113517392

Grønnerød, J. S. (2004). On the meanings and uses of laughter in research interviews. Young: Nordic Journal of Youth Research, 12(1), 31-49.

Herron, B. A. (2019). On doing ‘being feminist’ and ‘being researcher’: Lessons from a novice interviewer. In K. Roulston (Ed.), Interactional studies of qualitative research interviews (pp. 79-102). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Houtkoop-Steenstra, H. (2000). Interaction and the standardized survey interview: The living questions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Houtkoop-Steenstra, H., & Antaki, C. (1997). Creating happy people by asking yes-no questions. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 30.

Jung, H. (2019). “It doesn’t make sense, but it actually does”: Interactional dynamics in focus group interaction. In K. Roulston (Ed.), Interactional studies of qualitative research interviews (pp. 201-218). Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Maynard, D. W., Houtkoop-Steenstra, H., van der Zouwen, J., & Schaeffer, N. C. (Eds.). (2002). Standardization and tacit knowledge: Interaction and practice in the survey interview. New York: John Wiley.

Michael, M. (2004). On making data social: Heterogeneity in sociological practice. Qualitative Research, 4(1), 5-23.

Myers, G., & Lampropoulou, S. (2012). Impersonal you and stance-taking in social research interviews. Journal of Pragmatics, 44(10), 1206-1218. doi:10.1016/j.pragma.2012.05.005

Ohta, A. S., & Prior, M. T. (2019). “That’s a stupid question!”: Competing perspectives and language choice in an English-Japanese bilingual research interview In K. Roulston (Ed.), Social studies of qualitative interviewing: Examining methods (pp. 147-180). Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Pope, E. (2019). Continuers in research interviews: A closer look at the construction of rapport in talk about interfaith dialogue. In K. Roulston (Ed.), Interactional studies of qualitative research interviews (pp. 219-238). Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Prior, M. T. (2017). Accomplishing “rapport” in qualitative research interviews: Empathic moments in interaction. In Applied Linguistics Review (Vol. 0).

Rapley, M., & Antaki, C. (1998). ‘What do you think about…?’ Generating views in an interview. Text, 18(4), 587-608.

Rapley, T. (2019). The way(s) of interviewing: Exploring social studies of interviews. In K. Roulston (Ed.), Interactional studies of qualitative interviewing (pp. 271-282). Amsterdam and Philadelphia John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Roulston, K. (2000). The management of ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ complaint sequences in research interviews. Text, 20(3), 1-39.

Roulston, K. (2006). Close encounters of the ‘CA’ kind: a review of literature analysing talk in research interviews. Qualitative Research, 6(4), 515-534. doi:10.1177/1468794106068021

Roulston, K. (2019a). Research interviewers as ‘knowers’ and ‘unknowers’. In K. Roulston (Ed.), Interactional studies of qualitative research interviews (pp. 59-78). Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Roulston, K. (Ed.) (2019b). Interactional studies of qualitative research interviews. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Schaeffer, N. C., & Maynard, D. W. (2002). Standardization and interaction in survey interviews. In J. Gubrium & J. A. Holstein (Eds.), Handbook of interview research: Context and method (pp. 577-601). Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Shelton, S. A. (2019). Epistemic shifts: Examining interviewer and self-praise in interviews. In K. Roulston (Ed.), Interactional studies of qualitative research interviews (pp. 125-140). Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company

Smith, R. A. (2019). “What does it mean?” Methodological strategies for interviewing children. In K. Roulston (Ed.), Interactional studies of qualitative research interviews. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Suchman, L., & Jordan, B. (1990). Interactional troubles in face-to-face survey interviews. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 85(409), 232-253.

Veronesi, D. (2019). “But you’re gonna ask me questions, right?”: Interactional frame and “for-the-record” orientation in language biography interviews. In K. Roulston (Ed.), Interactional studies of qualitative research interviews (pp. 181-200). Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Williams, V. (2019). “Like us you mean?” Sensitive disability questions and peer research encounters. In K. Roulston (Ed.), Interactional studies of qualitative research interviews (pp. 37-57). Amsterdam and Philadelphia John Benjamins Publishing Company.

 

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