Cogs and Wheels: The material culture of revolutionary China

February 23, 2007


Filed under: Interviews, My research, Weblinks — amyjaneb @ 12:30 am

It’s late, but I wanted to blog this while I was still basking in a sense of achievement and relief, and not tomorrow, when I wake up remembering that I forgot to do that, and I should have mentioned such-and-such. 

I’ve just sent of a list of questions to my first interviewee.  I’m planning on doing as many interviews as possible by email.  Mainly because they’re really an information-gathering process, not integral to my research.  Just there to provide some contextual information (all being well).  But also to save on time and money.  I know some people might feel that email interviews remove the level of spontaneity that characterises conventional interviews, but I’m not too bothered.  In fact I’m looking forward to some thoughtful and considered replies.  Plus it means I won’t have to transcribe hours of recorded interviews either, which has got to be a good thing.

However, I did want to get it right:  Pitch the questions at an appropriate level using the right sort of conversational tone.  I searched google for advice, and was pleased to find that I was, for the most part, on the right track.  But there were a few useful points which I hadn’t considered.  So – for future reference, what follows, is Amy’s top ten things (in no particular order)to consider when planning an interview by email.

  • Think about what you need to know and what you want to find out from your interviewee.  Explain what you’re after from them (you could even give reasons why you’re asking particular questions).
  • Devise open-ended questions that will encourage ’emotional’ responses (this helps to get over that lack of spontaneity issue and provide opportunities for respondents to produce some really good, quotable material).
  • Limit the number of questions (I confess I ran to thirteen – some of which had three or more parts), and keep them as clear, uncomplicated and as short as possible.
  • List questions numerically and leave a space for answers (but give your interviewee the opportunity to submit their answers in an alternative format if they wish).
  • Start your email with an apology for the daunting list you’ve sadlled them with and thank them in advance for their time.
  • Finish your list/email by asking your interviewee if there is anything that they would like to add, or a question they feel you should have asked (I’m hoping this might reveal any areas I’ve not considered…or more likely, forgotten about).
  • Give a (gentle) timeline or deadline for their response.
  • Suggest that you may contact them to follow-up their responses and/or to clarify any points at a future date.
  • Give your interviewee the option not to answer particular questions if they feel they cannot or would prefer not to.
  • Promise to send them a copy of the written-up ‘interview’ in good time so that they can check it for accuracy (this is probably more important when conducting in-person and telephone interviews, but I think it’s good manners to keep your respondents ‘in the loop’).

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the consent, release – whatever you want to call it – form.  That’s a whole another post! 

I await a response eagerly.


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