Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Writing While Researching: The Interview Summary

Write every day! Have I said that lately?

Oftentimes when I repeat my mantra “Write every day,” people tell me that they are not yet at the writing stage of their project, and thus cannot write every day. However, I am convinced that a little creativity will make it clear that every stage of a project can be a writing stage. I know because I have tried to write every day at every stage and am invariably successful.

This week, I will focus on one example of writing while researching: the interview summary.

Writing while researching

Most of my research is interview-based. I interview people about a certain subject, record, transcribe, and code the interviews and then write up my findings. You might think that I could not actually begin to write every day until I had completed all of those initial steps. However, I begin writing before I begin collecting my interviews, while collecting them, while analyzing them, and after they are all analyzed. Here, I will focus on the interview summary, which I usually do while collecting my data.

The Interview Summary

When I interview a person for my project, I write up a brief summary of the interview within 24 hours of having completed the interview. In the interview summary, I describe the context of the interview and provide a brief summary of the most important points. In my current project, which involves life histories of deportees, I write up a summary of their life history. This way, each day that I do an interview, I write an interview summary.

I usually have my interviews transcribed by a professional transcriber to save time and because I hate transcribing. But, I do check each transcription by listening to each recording while looking at the transcription. When I do this, I pull up the interview summary and check it for accuracy. The summary also helps to jog my memory about the interview and keep the data fresh in my mind. If I did not write a summary after the interview, I write it up when I am checking the transcription.

These summaries are useful as I code the data, as they help me to think of themes I could code for. Instead of having hundreds of pages of transcriptions to sort through, I have about one page for each interviewee. My current project involves 157 interviews, and this method makes dealing with all of this information a bit more manageable.

The summaries are particularly useful when I begin to formulate the actual article or book chapter, as I can insert them into the piece I am working on whenever I mention an interviewee. For example, when I write up my data and include a quote from “John,” I can just insert the interview summary before the quote so that I have a ready-made description of who “John” is. I usually have to cut down the summary quite a bit, but that is easier than writing up a description from scratch.

Writing interview summaries is a great way to get started with writing early on in a data collection project, and can make the final writing process go by much more smoothly.

2 comments:

  1. I love this Tanya- something to strive for as I clean my dissertation data and collect another 120 interviews over the next couple of years. Thanks for the tip! LaShawnDa

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  2. Glad you found it useful, LaShawnDa.... And, GREAT to hear I am not the only one crazy enough to collect 100+ interviews!! I am sure we will continue to share strategies...

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