Reporting Findings from Interviews

I have been supervising students doing research at both undergraduate and graduate levels recently and many of the students have been doing qualitative studies, involving interviews. In doing so, I have found that many of them find it difficult to report their findings and provide evidence. I am not surprised as there does not seem to be much information available. As Robert Yin (2011, p. 234) has made clear:

At a minimum, a common kind of narrative data would take the form of quotations and paraphrased passages, representing your study participants’ descriptions their own lives, actions, and views. In qualitative research, even these briefer descriptions serve as an important form of data. Not surprisingly, the choices about how to present these narrative data are more than a matter of literary style. Methodological issues also are relevant. Yet, this type of narrative — whether brief or lengthy — has not received much attention in existing guides for doing qualitative research.

I have looked through the publications in the references list below. Most of them are excellent, but none of them provide the useful information that my students need.

There are some useful suggestions, but none of them – apart from Yin – are detailed enough:

The shortest presentation about individual people usually occurs when the quoted words by one of the participants in a study appear as part of a study’s entire narrative flow….
The same approach of embedding quoted dialogue within narrative text can be used to capture the interchange between two or more people.(Yin, 2011, p. 236).

Don’t hesitate to provide rich examples from your fieldwork experience to illustrate your points ,… (Wolcott, 2001, p. 93).

… provide quotations from the primary studies to illustrate and ground the themes or codes identified, where relevant (Levitt, 2019, p. 98).

Quotations, field notes, and other data should be identified in a way which enables the readers to judge the range of evidence being used (Lee, 2014, p. 94).

In some types of studies, examples from the data are included to illustrate some of the issues that are discussed. These examples can include quotes from interviews, excerpts of classroom interaction, or excerpts from diaries and journals…. Well-chosen excerpts are very convincing data. In selecting the excerpts to include, select ones that illustrate the point you wish to make and clarify how the example demonstrates the issue at hand. In addition use excerpts that fairly represent the data gathered. Each example should be numbered consecutively throughout the paper. Also if the examples in the paper come from more than once source, label the source of the data (e.g., interviews, journals, diaries) and the date gathered…. The dependability of qualitative research depends on being able to document the source of the evidence used (McKay, 2006, pp. 162-163).

Guidance for Authors
Use quotes or excerpts to augment data description (e.g. thick, evocative description; field notes, text excerpts), but these should not replace the description of the findings of the analysis (American Psychological Association, 2020,  p. 99).

Another tactic for providing evidentiary support is quoting participants verbatim. However, extensive indented quotations can become fatiguing to read, and not every story speaks for itself. Keep the number of quotations to a respectable minimum, and no longer than half a page in length for each one. (Saladaña, 2011, p. 143).

Finally, specific examples and quotations to further corroborate the existence of the pattern in the data, are presented. A brief example of this presentation of qualitative findings is:

Most respondents thought shipping was not important because schedules were reliable (row 2 of Table 4.3). ‘Thank goodness the unions are tame’ (A2). ’No worries – we have good port agents and shipping lines’ (B1). 

(Perry, 2013, pp. 53-54).

As far as possible, the findings section should be exhaustive in reporting the data. However, given the restricted space of a journal paper, decisions have to be made about what to put in and what to leave out. A convention that appears to have arisen in reporting verbatim quotes under a particular category heading seems to be three or four items. Longer quotes are often better for preserving context. Short quotes can often, either be taken out of context or seem to offer little elaboration of an idea (Burnard, 2004, p. 179).

With viable core concepts and rich data, researchers are positioned to present their findings in ways that are memorable and interesting; that is, with “grab” (Glaser, 1978). “Grab” requires compelling descriptive material; that is, excerpts from interviews, field notes, and various types of documents, as well as researchers’ paraphrases of these materials (Gilgun, 2014).

Quotes: One type of in-line quote is an informant’s word or phrase placed within an author’s sentence. A second type of in-line quote is an informant’s sentence placed among the author’s sentences. A third type of quote, called a block quote, is anywhere from a paragraph to a long interview excerpt. This type of quote is indented from the margins. Some journals have word count guidelines for in-line quotes versus block quotes (e.g. under vs over 100 words). When deciding how much of a text or transcript to quote, err on the side of including more text because it is easier to trim unnecessary clauses later on when it is clearer which aspects of the excerpt are most relevant to your theoretical claims (Gopaldas, 2015, p. 119).

(e) Extracts from the corpus of raw data are embedded within the argument of the data analysis section or chapter with different degrees of explicitness.
(f) Each embedded extract of data is usually preceded and sometimes followed by a discursive commentary which guides the reader to the specific meaning the researcher sees in it, and links it to the argument.
(g) Long extracts of data can be indented separate to the main text, following the rule used for citing from literature (Holliday, 2002, p. 121).

Most qualitative research reports include a mixture of theoretical analysis and illustrative extracts from the primary data. The report moves between the author’s voice and a variety of other voices that are used as ‘exemplars’ to support the author’s argument. Extracts usually serve as illustrations of more general theoretical propositions. Atkinson (1990) identifies three functions of these exemplars within ethnographic texts. First, through detailed description exemplars allow the reader to enter an imagined experience of the described culture and social world. Second, exemplars allow the introduction of a variety of voices and perspectives to the text. Finally, exemplars allow participants, along with the author and the reader, to participate in the collaborative construction of the text’s meaning (Ezzy, 2002, p. 147).

In describing the categories, we have included illustrative quotations from the interview transcripts as evidence. Choosing quotations can often be problematic for researchers because it can be difficult to decide which quotations are most representative of a specific theme or category. Often there is a conflict about using the most ‘startling’ quotations that may be particularly memorable or ones that really embrace the substance of the category. Then there is the decision of how many quotations to use. Often there are many good descriptive quotations and the process of elimination can be mentally ‘painful’ as there is so much you would like to share with the reader. It is also important in reporting grounded theory to give a selection of opposing views if these differ from the main pattern of themes, as is illustrated in this section. However it must be borne in mind that a journal article relies mainly on the authors’ interpretation of events, which should be the substantive part of the findings, with the quotations acting as confirmation of this interpretation. This is how we have tried to report the nature of the categories here. (Sque & Payne, 2007, p. 221).

Use of transcripts
Unless there is a special reason for using a complete transcript, or sections of same, um’s and ah’s and non-verbals and all, and if all that is required is content, then:
• Edit for sense, repetition, mannerisms, etc.
• Use paraphrasing and reported speech occasionally to save space, perhaps incorporating the key comments into the main text.
• Check for clarity. People speak differently from the way they write. You are translating their spoken words into text. There are dangers of adulterating the spoken word in these techniques, but where you have reams of transcript, and much of it in stream of consciousness form, you have no choice. In many cases, respondent validation of your account will be possible.
• Check for punctuation.
• Bear in mind the value of side-by-side analysis of long pieces of transcript of interview or classroom interaction where these are used (convenient for the reader, but also a useful check on the need for the lengthy extract).
• Consider alternative ways of presenting the material.
Misuse of examples
• All claims need good examples, preferably more than one of contrasting kinds.
• Beware of seeking to prove a point by giving just one example.
• Examples are subject to the problems listed above. They take up space. Are they pulling their weight, or are they mainly padding? Can they be trimmed without threats to validity?
(Woods, 2006, pp. 93-94)

Quotations from participants whom you interviewed as part of your research are treated differently than quotations from published works. When quoting research participants, use the same formatting as for other quotations: Present a quotation of fewer than 40 words in quotation marks within the text …, and present a quotation of 40 words or more in a block quotation …. Because quotations from research participants are part of your original research, do not include them in the reference list or treat them as personal communications; state in the text that the quotations are from participants.
When quoting research participants, abide by the ethical agreements regarding confidentiality and/or anonymity between you and your participants. Take extra care to obtain and respect participants’ consent to have their information included in your report. You may need to assign participants a pseudonym, obscure identifying information, or present information in the aggregate ….

Participant” Julia,” a 32-year-old woman from California, described her experiences as a new mother as “simultaneously the best and hardest time of my life.”Several other participants agreed, describing the beginning of parenthood as “joyful,” “lonely,” and “intense.” Julia and the other participants completed interviews in their homes.

American Psychological Association (2020,  p. 278).

I think I can conclude from this that using extracts from interview transcripts – which will probably be included as an appendix –  is a good way of providing evidence for any claims that you are making. These extracts need to be chosen carefully integrated well into the discussion and not expected to stand alone. In all cases the participants who have taken part in the interviews and whose words are being used need to be explicitly identified.

Based on that, this is my attempt to provide something that students can make use of:

References & bibliography

American Psychological Association (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Burnard, P. (2004). Writing a qualitative research report. Accident and Emergency Nursing 12(3), 176-181.

Ely, M., Vinz, R., Downing, M. & Anzul, M. (1997). On writing qualitative research. London: The Falmer Press.

Ezzy, D. (2002). Qualitative analysis: Practice and innovation. London: Routledge.

Gilgun, J. F. (2014). Writing up qualitative research. In P. Leavy (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of qualitative research methods (pp. 658-676). New York: Oxford University Press.

Gopaldas, A. (2016). A front-to-back guide to writing a qualitative research article. Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, 19(1), 115-121.

Holliday, A. (2007). Doing and writing qualitative research (2nd ed.). London: Sage.

Lee, Y.-A. (2014). Insight for writing a qualitative research paper. Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 43, 94-97.

Levitt, H. M. (2018). Reporting qualitative research in psychology. Washington: American Psychological Association.

Lynch, T. (2014). Writing up your PhD (Qualitative research). Edinburgh: English Language Teaching Centre, University of Edinburgh.

McKay, S. L. (2006). Researching second language classrooms. London: Routledge.

Meloy, J. M. (2001). Writing the qualitative dissertation: Understanding by doing. New York: Routledge .

Perry, C. (2013). Efficient and effective research. Adelaide: AIB Publications.

Saladaña, J. (2011). Fundamentals of qualitative research. Oxford: Oxford University press.

Sque, M. & Payne, S. (2007). Critical care experiences and bereavement among families of organ donors: A reflective account of grounded theory analysis. In E. Lyons & A. Coyle (Eds.), Analysing qualitative data in psychology (pp. 217-234). London: Sage.

Wolcott, H. (2001). Writing up qualitative research (2nd ed.). London: Sage.

Woods, P. (2005). Successful writing for qualitative researchers (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.

Yin, R. K. (2011). Qualitative research from start to finish. New York: The Guilford Press.

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