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.


  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

  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...