Exercise 4: Reflecting on the interviewing process in additional interview transcripts

Read the Preface to Appendix 1 in the book where Arnie Reed contextualizes his qualitative study of ex-soldiers’ accounts of renegotiating identity after leaving the army. Then look at the additional interview transcripts from that study.

Interview with Johnny

In the transcript of the interview with Johnny, notice how Johnny’s response to the first question runs from line 4 to line 50 and includes diverse reflections on how he came to join the army and how he thinks the army may have influenced him.

  • If you had been faced with such a long response to an initial interview question, would you have intervened in any way – for example, with probes to explore further anything that Johnny was saying or with an attempt to focus his response? Or do you think that Arnie was right to let Johnny continue uninterrupted for as long as he did?
  • What makes you say that?
  • If you would have intervened, what would you have said? At what point would you have said that? How do you think Johnny would have responded?

In lines 52–58 of the transcript of the interview with Johnny, we find this interaction:

Arnie:       What aspects of being a soldier were important to you?

Johnny:      Aspects of being a soldier?

Arnie:       Mmm.

Johnny:      Were important?

At first glance, it looks as if Johnny had difficulty in understanding the question that Arnie asked. It is always important to note these instances when conducting interviews because they can indicate where you need to think again about a particular question – its wording, its location in the interview schedule or whether it is relevant at all.

  • In this case, do you think that Johnny was having difficulty in understanding the question? Look at what happens in the transcript after Johnny’s ‘Were important?’ query and also look at how Johnny responds to other questions.
  • What do you think was going on in lines 52–58?

Interview with Greg

In the book’s glossary, a leading or biased question is defined as one in which an expected answer is evident from the wording of the question. For example, ‘Do you think that the terrible cruelty of whaling has been adequately reported in the press?’ Leading questions should not appear in the final version of an interview schedule but should have been identified and removed before fieldwork begins.

In lines 42–45 of the additional transcript of the interview with Greg, Arnie says ‘The next question is “What aspects of being a soldier were important to you?” and you’ve touched on some of those already. Can you elaborate on those or talk about some more perhaps?’ Initially, Greg seems to struggle to find something to say in response (‘I think it’s just down to a sense of service. Yeah, a sense of service I think, yes. I mean...’) and so Arnie raises something specific in lines 50–51 (‘Sometimes guys talk about camaraderie and being a part of things and...’).

  • Do you think this is a leading prompt?
  • What makes you say that?

In Chapter 3 in the book (‘Ethical considerations in qualitative research’), Edith Maria Steffen says that ‘Using interpersonal skills in qualitative research interviews that are also found in counselling can have significant benefits, especially when researching sensitive issues, as this could increase a sense of safety for participants and a sense of being heard and understood – although care needs to be taken not to mislead participants that explicitly therapeutic input is on offer.’

Note how, in lines 178–9 of the transcript of the interview with Greg, Arnie concisely summarizes an important point in what Greg has just been saying and reflects it back to him (‘It sounds like you had achieved a particular place in a hierarchy and you were comfortable in that place and you left all that behind’). In line 181, Greg responds with ‘Yeah, yeah. Oh that’s exactly it, yeah’, indicating that Arnie had succeeded in understanding a key point in Greg’s description of what it meant to ‘establish himself’ in post-army life.

The strength of Greg’s affirmation suggests that being understood in this way was important to him. In lines 98–99, Greg had acknowledged Arnie’s ‘insider position’ in relation to the experience of having to adjust to post-army life (‘I mean, you’ve been there yourself’). In lines 178–9, Arnie demonstrates the understanding that Greg might have expected from that position. It is easy to imagine that this might have further strengthened the sense of rapport between them and Greg’s sense of ease and safety in the interview.

See if you can find other instances in this or other transcripts where Arnie paraphrases the content of what an interviewee has said or where he reflects back his understanding of an interviewee’s emotions.

  • How accurate do those instances of paraphrasing and reflection appear to be?
  • How useful do they seem to be?

To help answer these questions, look at what happens in the transcripts after those instances of paraphrasing and reflection: how does the interviewee respond to them?

  • What can you learn from this about the use of paraphrasing and reflecting in qualitative research interviewing?

Remember though: we are talking here about research interviews, not counselling sessions (and interviewees will have consented to participate in a research interview, not in a counselling session).

See if you can find places in this or other transcripts where the interviewee said something that you would have responded to with paraphrasing or reflection (or in some other ways) but where Arnie did not respond verbally.

  • How would you have responded?
  • In what way do you think that your suggested response would have contributed towards achieving the goal of the research (which is specified in the book: see the Preface to Appendix 1 there)? For example, would it have helped to build rapport, encouraged the interviewee to go deeper in relation to something that seems important or opened up a new relevant aspect of the research topic?