Characteristics of Good Interviews
"The person telling the story is the expert when it comes to his or her life, and he or she may tell unexpected things in unexpected ways." John Eyles and Eugenio Perry. 1993. "Life history as method: an Italian-Canadian family in an industrial city." The Canadian Geographer 37 (2), p. 117.
An interview is a conversation in which the interviewer and respondent cooperate to "give voice" to knowledge that would not otherwise exist. Through the interview relationship, respondents express their unique thoughts and experiences. Later, in the process of analysis, these expressions become "data," which the researcher interprets and synthesizes in relation to a body of sociological knowledge to make respondents' knowledge more widely heard and understood. For this analysis to be successful, the initial collabouration between the interviewer and respondent should result in "thick," descriptive data.
"From one point of view, that of the textbook, doing ethnography is establishing rapport, selecting informants, transcribing texts, taking genealogies, mapping fields, keeping a diary, and so on. But it is not these things, techniques and received procedures, that define the enterprise. What defines it is the kind of intellectual effort it is: an elabourate venture in…thick description." Clifford Geertz. 1973. "Thick Description: Toward and Interpretive Theory of Culture." The Interpretation of Cultures, p. 6.
By establishing a trusting relationship, asking questions skillfully, and listening actively, (links to these sections) the interviewer creates the right conditions for the respondent to speak at length. Although an uninhibited flow of talk is a minimum requirement of a good interview, long-winded answers do not necessarily amount to "thick" data. The quality of response is just as important.
Qualities of Interviews with "Thick" Data
- responses are in the form of narratives, which convey more than opinions and information
- responses are detailed and descriptive, not overly abstract
- responses are personal and based on first-hand experience, not impersonal summaries or generalizations
- responses have emotional significance to the respondent and are not mere intellectualizations