[Air-l] Online interviewing

Mary L. Gray mlgray at ucsd.edu
Mon Jul 14 10:03:07 PDT 2003

Hello Air folks  : )

And thanks to Lisa for generating the discussion topic below.

> From: "Lisa-Jane McGerty" <L.J.Mcgerty at Bradford.ac.uk>
> Can anyone recommend any good books/journal articles/websites on doing
> qualitative interviews online, i.e. using one-to-one synchronous exchanges
> in some kind of chat environment (or whatever) for qualitative research? Has
> anyone on the list ever done this? Any thoughts anyone??

I haven't come across any specific cites dealing with online
interviewing--particularly synchronous discussions (but I haven't been
diligent about looking either)...so, I would be interested if you happen to
hear of any "must reads" on the topic.

I did use online chat, specifically instant messaging for some of my work
with rural youth in the U.S. ...i'm looking at how they use new media
technologies in the negotiation of sexual and gender identities. I'm talking
with young people between 14-24 so there were/are a host of ethical and
methodological concerns my IRB and I hashed out before I started the

A few key issues I've encountered in using this method:
1) because of my need for securing the confidentiality of the youth I'm
working with--and assuring they are using a secure computer that can't link
them to their conversations with me--it's harder for me to arrange using the
net as a space for interviewing because of youth's limited access to such
secure computer settings (they don't have a computer at home, or it's a
shared family computer, or they are using the computer for fixed amount of
time that can't be scheduled with an online interview).

2) literacy and conversational flow seemed a bit stifled online as compared
to offline interviewing I did as follow ups with the same
individuals..unfortunately, this is difficult to predict. I think it has
little to do with the medium and more to do with the individual--I just
never knew if someone was going to be more "chatty" online vs.
offline..regardless of the medium they felt they would be more
conversational with...and I am working with youth who have statistically
less educational opportunities than just about any other young person in the
U.S. ...several folks opted for talking in person because they were either
embarrassed by or felt limited in their use of textual environments for
communicating their feelings and ideas.

3) it's great to triangulate offline and online interview data. I don't
believe I get anything more "real" out of talking with someone offline, but
I do feel like I fill in (or paint) the picture in different ways using both
online and offline interviewing techniques. Although it's undeniably
appealing to have essentially instant transcripts of interviews using online
environments, I always felt like my best interviews happened through a
combination of phone, email, chat and inperson conversations. But, as I type
that, I have to admit the triangulated interviews were better because I
spent more time with the individuals and had a better sense of the kinds of
discussion and questions that would really get them talking...i don't have
the skills to illicit that kind of talk in online synchronous talk--perhaps
that's the bigger issue...how do we train ourselves to use this medium as
effectively as we can train ourselves to interview using offline spaces?

Best of luck with your work ...and keep us posted on where this conversation
goes  : )

Mary L. Gray <mlgray at ucsd.edu>
Department of Communication
University of California, San Diego
vox:   502/451.5003
mail:   PO Box 4004, Louisville, KY 40204

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