How to Conduct an Interview

Conducting interviews in Anthropology will likely be a new thing to you, but don’t worry! They really aren’t as scary or as difficult as they might seem. Just follow these simple guidelines and it will be a breeze.

  1. Make sure you are always prepared for an interview by being familiarized with relevant notes on your topic and have your questions at hand.
  2. Make sure you have some good background knowledge on the subject you’ll be talking about.
  3. Don’t be afraid to stray from your questions if that is where the conversation leads. Be flexible.
  4. Make sure the interviewee is comfortable and honest with you. Always be friendly, even if the interviewee is annoying you.
  5. Make sure you know the interviewee’s background and have their permission to use your discussion in your paper.
  6. You must quote and paraphrase accurately. Do not change thoughts around to better suit your paper. Do not take quotes out of context; be true to the interviewee’s ideas and intent. Be a good listener.
  7. If you aren’t a fast writer/typer, you can rent a recorder from Bailey/Howe, and transcribe the interview afterwards.
  8. You may be wondering how you can find an interviewee. It will always depend on the subject at hand, but you will probably have plenty of options available via your family or the UVM students, workers, and faculty. If you can’t think of anyone at all—despite the 12,000 plus students, faculty, and staff on campus—ask your professor or TAs for guidance.

How to Conduct Participant Observation

You may have heard of participant observation as a major form of primary research in anthropology. There is a lot more to participant observation than just people-watching. But if you follow these easy steps entering the field should be easy and enjoyable.

  1. Develop a series of research questions ranging from broad, theoretical questions to specific questions about the culture you are observing.
  2. Make sure you have some good background knowledge on the subject you’ll be talking about.
  3. Identify a culture, subculture, or community, the observation of which might answer some of these questions.
  4. Start the application process with the internal review board before beginning any research.
  5. While working out the logistics of the observation keep in mind your subjects’ perceptions of anthropologists and ways in which you can make your intentions clear. Identify any gatekeepers who can help you secure access to your subjects
  6. Entering the field, be ready to share your research questions when asked about your project.
  7. Build rapport by being yourself. Be approachable. Be genuine.
  8. Care about what your subjects have to say, and mean it!
  9. Embrace ethnographic naivety: ask questions about everything, play dumb, respect those who take the time to teach you.
  10. Balance taking notes with any stigma doing so may create. Be prepared to jot furiously in any free moments. Develop a set of symbols to help you write faster.

Further Reading

Getting Started

Bailey, Carol
1996 In the Beginning: Starting a Field Research Project.
Pp. 25-47. A Guide to Field Research. Thousand Oaks: Pine Forge Press.

Berg, Bruce
2007 Designing Qualitative Research. Pp. 19-52
Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences,
6thed. Boston: Pearson.

Writing Fieldnotes

Emerson, Robert M, Rachel I. Fretz and Linda L. Shaw
1995 In the Field: Participating, Observing, and Jotting Notes
and Writing Up Fieldnotes I: From Field to Desk. Pp. 17-65.
Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Clifford, James
1990 Notes on Field(notes). Pp. 47-70. Fieldnotes:
The Makings of Anthropology, ed. Roger Sanjek. Ithaca:
Cornell University Press.

Participant Observation

Bernard, H. Russell
2011 Participant Observation. Pp. 256-290. Research Methods
in Anthropology: Qualitative and Quantiative Approaches,
5th edition. Lanham: Altamira Press.

Watt, Sal and Julie Scott Jones
2010 Let’s Look Inside: Doing Participant Observation.
Pp. 107-125. Ethnography in Social Science Practice.
New York: Routledge.

Interview Methods

Bernard, H. Russell
2011 Interviewing I: Unstructured and Semistructured
Pp. 156-186. Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative
and Quantiative Approaches, 5th edition. Lanham: Altamira Press.

De Leon, Jason and Jeffrey Cohen
2005 Object and Walking Probes in Ethnographic Interviewing.
Field Methods 17(2): 200-204

Internal Review Board