As an academic, I’m often asked what the best bit of my job is, and whilst I love writing, and enjoy the intellectual challenge of crafting arguments and presenting new ideas through the written word, my hands down favourite bit of academia is doing fieldwork. In recent weeks I have been out and about doing lots of interviews which has given me space to reflect on my practice.
As a qualitative researcher, fieldwork for me, often involves interviewing in various formats, and that has primarily been one of the main ways I have conducted research since my first projects as an Undergraduate, right through my postgraduate studies, and the research roles I have had since.
Interviewing I find is deeply enjoyable, and one of the main reasons for that is that participants are often highly generous in terms of both the time they give to take part in research projects, and in their willingness to let you as a researcher into their lives. The attitude of participants is a constant reminder of the human spirits capacity for giving. As a social scientist, being able to interact with people is for me a vital part of understanding their experiences, what matters to them, and their journeys in life.
Even when interviews are ‘hard’ in terms of participants being reluctant to share, they have still come and agreed to be interviewed, and whatever they ‘share’ is a further part of the research picture you are building. Likewise if participants are over keen to share, grateful for an audience with whom they feel its ok to offer up some of the difficulties of their lives, then as a researcher its our role to try and ensure we explore the aspects we need within the context of the narratives the participants want to present to you.
Being ‘good’ at interviews means different things to different people and different projects require different approaches, for some being able to deliver a structured approach to questions is important to capture the same questions across, whereas for other, the ability to allow a more unstructured and free flowing approach is more significant. Regardless of the type of interviewing approach, or your own style to it, interviews are I believe something to enjoy the process of, something to refine your skills at, and something to keep reflecting on.
Some useful resources about interviewing:
Ritchie and Lewis (2003) Qualitative Research Practice. London: Sage
May. (2001). Social Research: Methods and process. London: Open University Press
Edwards and Holland. What is qualitative interviewing? http://eprints.ncrm.ac.uk/3276/1/complete_proofs.pdf