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Descriptive Data

Thick, rich interview data are highly descriptive. The respondent's language is precise, vivid and colourful. Concrete details conjure visual imagery so that the researcher is able to picture the scenario of a narrative. Thin data, on the other hand, merely summarize experience. The respondent uses abstract language that does not convey a sense of the particulars.

Descriptive Data

Interviewer: What did you do [when you first arrived] in Canada?

Domenico: I came here on a work contract. Canadian immigration promised me the same type of work that I was doing in France. In France I worked in a foundry, working with steel. When I got here, they did not have this work for me. There was no work. I had to go work in a mine, in a small town in northern Quebec, at the age of 19. Two weeks after my arrival to Canada, I started working in the mines. In France it was very warm, so I had on a pair of running shoes. That was the only pair of shoes I owned. When I reached northern Quebec, there was six feet of snow. I had no money to buy shoes, so I had to accept work in the mines. I worked for 15 days before I had any money to buy my shoes, and anything else that I needed. I made 65 cents per hour. It was hard and dangerous work, but in the four years after my wedding, I had managed to save $8,000. With that money, my family and I moved to Toronto…

Italian Interview #10


In this narrative, Domenico recalls precise details about his first job in Canada: six feet of snow, working for 15 days at 65 cents per hour to buy a pair of shoes… By including these details he gives us a vivid picture of his ordeal upon immigration at the age of 19.

Non-descriptive Data

Interviewer: What was your occupation before marriage? after marriage?

Antonella: I have never worked.

Interviewer: How about housework?

Antonella: Sure I did it. I've done that all my life.

Italian Interview #2


Antonella is unable to speak in precise details about her work because she does not consider housework as "work." Perhaps she considers housework as unimportant or uninteresting to the interviewer. A different line of questioning would be required to elicit a detailed description of Antonella's life and work.

Exercise: What's in an image?

Identify an excerpt with one or two vivid images, such as Domenico's running shoes in the northern Quebec winter in the example from Interview 10. Consider the image as a symbol. What is its larger meaning in the context of the narrative? Domenico's running shoes, for example, symbolize his sudden hardship and suffering upon immigration, his endurance through "hard and dangerous" conditions, as well as his tremendous achievement—he went from owning only one pair of shoes to having saved $8,000 working in the mines.

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