Building friendships through interviews


This week’s reading emphasizes mainly on “interviewing”, one of the several methods of field research as discussed in our previous blogs.

We also discussed in our blogs earlier about how building rapport with interviewees helps interviewers acquire more and accurate data. However, the text points out that emotional attachment with stories that respondents shared during an interview may influence data interpretation and analysis, and so the text suggests that it is important for interviewers to stay emotionally detached in order to acquire correct data and to demonstrate the real picture. But as sociologists, interviewing is not just a part of our job or academic research. We dive into a particular research because we care about the people involved in the particular issue and are interested in their culture and to become a voice for their concerns. We make sure that we have a good understanding of the history of the particular community by reading available literature, talking to as many experts as possible and going for observations in the community before we start off with our interviews. So a little bit of emotional influence may be natural and it may even help us see aspects from different perspectives. Sometimes, interviewers may feel that they already know what the interviewees want to convey. But going to the interviews with open eyes and ears may be more effective for getting the real picture. This may also help to identify flaws in assumptions made earlier during the research.

As suggested in the reading, there are ways to prevent biased interpretation and analysis of the interviews- “collaborative operations” can be used during research. One such approach is focus groups; instead of interviewing respondents separately, meeting with them in groups and asking for their perspectives may make the interviewees more aware of what information they are delivering. Also, it has been studied that interviewees tend to respond differently with different interviewers so having research groups for interviewing the same respondents may help in narrowing down the collected data correctly.

After all the questioning and answering is done, a “cool down” session is essential for successful completion of the interview. This may include asking if the respondents have anything additional to say, or if they have any question regarding the interviewer’s research, project or affiliated institution. Thanking the respondents for their time and insights is definitely polite and professional. And finally, asking them for their contact details for further follow-up if needed is also helpful in case if you missed out on important information. Afterall, is it not better to make a quick friendly call while you are in confusions than to get the wrong name printed alongside a person’s photograph?


Questions to consider:

What is your opinion regarding emotional attachments/detachments with interviewees?

In what other ways do you think we can make our interviews in the community more effective?

The Wonderful World of Qualitative Analysis

As a sociologist we have many options for how we want to conduct our research and what method we want to use. One option is qualitative research which has many subcategories. Qualitative research focuses on words rather than the collection of data and numbers. Like any research, qualitative research starts with a general research question and proceeds from there. Shown is a model for the flow of qualitative research:

There are also many sampling techniques within qualitative research. One form is theoretical sampling, generic purposive sampling, snowball sampling. Theoretical sampling is a process in which you are going to generate theory from the data you have collected. Generic purposive sampling takes places when participants are chosen with a purpose in mind. Snowball sampling is used when a researcher starts off with a small group of people and that group of people recruits others to participate in the study.

A few of the options for qualitative research include participant observation, ethnography, interviews, focus groups, and content analysis. Participant observation is when the researcher immerses themselves into the social setting in which they are trying to study. They do this for an extended period of time and observe behavior and conversations between people.

While participant observation and ethnography are similar methods of research, they are slightly different from each other.  The role of an ethnographer goes past that of someone conducting participant observation work. Ethnography goes beyond just the method and also includes the written product of the research. An ethnography will also include the use of non-observational methods such as interviewing, and sampling combined with observational methods. Photos and videos have also made their way into ethnographic studies.

Interviews take place when the researcher asks a series of questions with the interviewee. This method works well when trying to gain in-depth information about people’s thoughts feelings, opinions and personal experiences. In a focus group, a group of people are brought together in a room to engage in a discussion of a topic. Another form of research is content analysis, which looks at documents and texts and it seeks to quantify this data into categories.

When conducting research, we also have to take into consideration the idea of power and authority. From a feminist perspective there is three way that the researchers have power. The first way is that the researcher has more power and control than the researched. The second way is that the researcher has power over how the findings are interpreted. The third that is often researchers tend to have more social power in general.


Questions for consideration:

  1. What method/methods do you think are best for the research that we are conducting within Washington Park?
  2. Which sampling technique do you think will be the best option for our research?
  3. What steps can we take to be conscious of our power as researchers during this process?


Importance Of Conceptualization In Social Research

When conducting research, it is very important that there be a unified understanding of key concepts, or variables. This is very important when conducting research because the researcher could be discussing a concept, in the context of their understanding, whereas others outside of the study, the audience, may have a completely different understanding of that concept. Differences in the understanding of these key concepts will render the research invalid and unreliable. For example, if I wanted to count the number of families in a certain area, what the audience might classify as a family may be completely different than what the research team classifies as a family. And then, you have discrepancies in the research.

The purpose of this image is to show the many different family forms that not everyone may classify as a "family"

Do you consider all of these forms a family? Maybe you do, but someone else might not. Vice Versa.  

Conceptualization is the process in which the researchers identify key concepts used in the research and provide a unified explanation of those concepts so that both the research team and the audience is on the same page. This process of conceptualization is important when coming up with your research question and survey questions. Let’s think in terms of The Tiny Children’s Garden. Our hypothesis is that by building an accessible garden in the Washington Park community, we believe that there will be an increase in community involvement in environmental participation. But what if we, as researchers, have a different understanding of accessibility or community involvement in environmental participation than others and have applied our understanding to the research? Then, what if we took our understanding of these key concepts and used that to come up with our survey questions? Those being surveyed wouldn’t be answering the questions based on your understanding of the key concepts, but based on their own understanding of the key concepts. Our research would lose its validity and reliability, as it’s not good enough to use your own conceptualization of a concept, while assuming others conceptualize the concept in the same way. The process of conceptualization ensures that the research team and the audience are on the same page when it comes to understanding these key concepts.

Questions to consider….

  1. Why is the process of conceptualization so important in social research?
  2. What negative consequences could we face if we do not conceptualize key concepts in our research?
  3. What other terms might we want to conceptualize when conducting our community based participatory research?

Ethics and sampling of CBPR

I will start my blog by talking about ethics in Community-based participatory research. In our case, we will be doing research in The Tiny Children’s Garden. Wait for a second if you haven’t heard about our garden yet. I encourage you to check out the link below to know more about our community garden.

As a part of our research question and Ms. Davis’ goal is to answer the question “How to secure fresh vegetables and fruits for the community at Washington Park in East St. Louis?”. And also, as a part of our Community-based participatory research, we will need to conduct a survey. I will talk about my personal experience in preparing my survey at the university. The first step is to have your research question ready and start writing the survey questions that you want to ask your target audience. In my case, I am doing research on the recycling behaviors of Saudi Arabian households. My target audience is females who are performing or responsible for recycling household-generated waste. The second step, a critical step, in my opinion, is to complete an institutional review board (IRBs) and prove that my survey will not harm my target audience. There are many stages in doing this step by answering IRBs questions such as, describing all the risks that can harm participants and how to minimize them. Questions include explaining how you are distributing the survey, ensuring the anonymity of your participants’ identities, and what measurement you will take to secure their personal information…etc.

One of IRB’s protocol requirements for ensuring that you have completed your participant’s research notification which is to make sure that participants agree to take your survey and letting them know of any harmful risks they might face. The third step is waiting for your desired number of participants to complete your survey and then starting to analyze your results. You might be wondering about Harm! What possible harms will I face answering a survey? According to Alan Bryman, “Harm can entail a number of facets: physical harm; harm to participants’ development; loss of self-esteem; stress; and ‘inducing subjects to perform reprehensible acts’, as Diener and Crandall (1978: 19)” (Bryman & Bell, 2019)

William Iven

So now, let’s assume we have our questions ready, and we got our IRBs protocol approved. We know our target audience, which we call the sample frame. The sample frame in our research is the Washington Park community. To make our survey realistic, we will need to select a smaller group from the sample frame. It will be hard to ask every person living in Washington Park. Our sample can be based on either probability or non-probability approaches. Probability sampling means selecting our sample randomly so that every participant in the population has the chance to participate, such as race, age, gender..etc. On the other hand, non-probability sampling is the opposite of probability sampling, which means choosing specific participants; for example, Hispanic females form the age of 18 to 50. (Bryman & Bell, 2019)


Now we know what type of sampling are we going to use. But how many participants should we ask?  Is it the more the participants, the more valuable our research is going to be?

In order to decide our sample size, we need to consider some factors such as sampling precision (the larger our sample is the less sampling errors we will face), accepted sampling error, our research variables, time and, cost. (Bryman & Bell, 2019)



Questions for consideration: 

  •  What are the ethical challenges we might face when conducting a survey in the Washington Park community garden?
  • What is the purpose of sampling the community at The Washington Park in East St. Louis?
  • Do you think that we need to do a probability or non-probability sampling? Explain why.
  • Do you think there is a specific target audience we need to focus on such as kids, moms, seniors?
  • From your experience in doing surveys, how have you dealt with your sampling errors?


Bryman, A., & Bell, E. (2019). Social research methods. Don Mills, Ontario, Canada: Oxford University Press.



Community Communication

As social scientist, watching people and asking questions is one of our strongest tools. What better way to find out about a person than asking them? Or watching them in their everyday life? It is important however to make sure we are asking the right questions. We also must make sure we are asking the right people. What do we want to know? What experiences does this person have that would make them the right person to ask? How can I ask this question to get the best results?
One of the biggest challenges of conducting research is making sure we are getting good data. Asking questions for research can be a little different from the questions we use in everyday conversations. As such, researchers use special techniques, so we know the data we collected is accurate and appropriate for research. We could talk about the techniques in question constructions, but that’s a whole other blog post. I want to focus on what the researcher does in face-to-face interactions. Once we are ready to start asking our questions, the research must establish what is called rapport.
Rapport is basically how receptive you are when being asked questions and how receptive you are to answering questions. If you are unable to establish rapport you may find your conversation ending early, as the interviewee may become bored or generally unreceptive to your questions. It may seem obvious that you need to establish a friendly mood before you start asking questions, but it can also go the other way. Become too friendly and you may find the person you’re asking questions giving answers that aren’t 100% honest. Your overenthusiastic tone may result in your study containing more of what the interviewee thinks you want to hear – not what they truly believe. What can we do as researchers to overcome this?
As you can see, managing rapport throughout an interview can be a task of its own. When conducting interviews, researchers must be aware of their tone of voice, their body language, and their facial cues. But what other ways can rapport be threatened? Most relevant to us as guests in this community, we must be aware of our social locations and history. We must be conscious of the privilege our institution grants us. We must be conscious of the history between this community and our institutions (and by extension ourselves and this community). What can we do to overcome this? It seems to me the most important tool in the researcher’s garden shed is mindfulness and conscientiousness.

The first few minutes of this ted talk can be a helpful introduction, and provides some new thoughts on rapport.

How big of an impact do you think our history will play in establishing a connection with the community? Does is present positives and negatives?
Do you have any tips for establishing report? Any tips to avoid taking the connection too far?