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  • Writer's pictureKeidra Navaroli

Week 5 Reading Notes and Reflections


Vogt, W. Paul et al. When to Use What Research Design. New York: The Guilford Press, 2012.

What is the author's argument?

In Chapters 2, 8, and 14 of When to Use What Research Design, the authors discuss the formation, administration, and analysis of research interviews using examples and scenarios to illustrate the benefits of specific interview methods and to expand the discussion of ethical responsibilities.

Key Points

· Chapter 2 provides researchers information for when to use interviews, when to use particular types and modes of interviews, and when to combine interviews with other design methods

· Some similarities between interviews and surveys include the fact that with both: you ask people what you want to know and record their answers; researchers tend to generalize the results; both methods can be directed to gathering personal/internal information or external/less personal info; both are based on trusting respondents to answer honestly; and both struggle with problems of interpreting meaning

· Some differences between interviews and surveys include: survey researchers usually use more people (a larger sample); interviewers generally select interviewees through targeted purposeful (rather than random) sampling; survey questions are usually shorter

· Interviews tend to be effective when you are seeking knowledge that is best obtained from members of your target population because it is subjective; when you seek in-depth answers from participants; when generalizing to a large population is less important than learning in detail about a smaller group; and when questions you ask require that informants have time to reflect before answering

· Interviews can be conducted face-to-face, over the telephone, or via web-based methods like email

· Chapter 8 is organized in two parts: how the interview sampling strategies are shaped by research questions and practical decisions one must make about interview sampling, like who, how many, and where

· Factors that shape the research question include when: your research question seeks to gather external vs internal data; your research questions are descriptive; your research questions are exploratory; your research questions seek explanation; your research questions involve theory testing; and your research questions aim at theory building

· IRB informed consent assurances offer the researcher little or no protection, so they must decide their willingness to protect confidentiality and inform interviewees accordingly. Tell respondents: what you plan to do with the data; how you will keep tapes/transcripts locked up; and how they will not contain labels that will link content to their names. If the research is published, it is public.

· When you do not have a defined population and a sampling frame, it is almost inevitable that you will have to adjust your research question to align with the sample of people you can find and recruit.

· Because interviews and surveys are similar, there is a similarity in the issue of ethics. However, it is important to note that interviews demand more from participants.

· The potential for harm with interviews is greatest when privacy/confidentiality is breached. Researchers are not protected by the first amendment and can be subpoenaed for their records. The general rule would be to delete all identifying info (ideally to the extent that it doesn’t affect analysis.

· Member checking may offer respondents the opportunity to review a summery of the interview before you use it in your research.

· The main consideration for selecting an interview site is the comfort of the interviewees.


Some Key Terms/Concepts

An interview is an organized conversation in which one person asks questions and another person answers. It is an interaction between two or more individuals and can be influenced by the dynamic between interviewer and interviewee.

Explanatory/confirmatory research tests theories and identifies causal mechanisms; In contrast, exploratory/descriptive research is used when the research is aimed at learning as much as possible about how one person views their own development over time.

Focused group interviews or focus groups address questions that center on social dynamics and interactions. An ideal number of participants is 8-12.

When you want to use findings from a sampling of interviews to make statistical generalizations to a larger population, RDS or respondent-driven sampling is an alternative.

Key Quotations

“A discussion or conversation in which you want to learn what the other person thinks is a major building block of the interview.” (31)

“Interpreting the meaning of the respondents and information is complicated in both surveys and interviews because meaning is highly dependent on word choice and meaning can vary with context.” (35)

“Even when researchers are most deeply involved with the people we are studying…our purpose is to learn about others, not ourselves.” (45)

“Research questions have a stronger effect on whom to interview than on how many of them to interview…You need to exercise great care when deciding whom to interview, how many to interview, how long to interview, and how to contact them.” (147)

“the internet makes interviewees easier to find but harder to know, at least in the ways that researchers have traditionally thought of getting to know the people they interviewed.” (152)

“You never want to imply that agreeing to be interviewed is anything but completely voluntary.” (255)

“Because IRB informed consent assurances offer the researcher little or no protection, you should decide how far you are willing to go to protect confidentiality and then you need to inform your interviewees accordingly.” (257)

“…one of the drawbacks of new modes of interviewing is the ease with which privacy can be breached…threats to privacy are much greater via web-based interviews than with face-to-face interviews.” (260)

Strengths and Weaknesses

As always, I appreciate the construction of the text which clearly states and summarizes the objectives of each chapter. I did take issue with a few areas of the discussion. For example on page 258, they end a paragraph with a rather dismissive comment about the risks of research stating “ a list of history’s oppressors, researchers rank pretty low – at least as compared to religious fanatics, racists, criminals, fascists, communists, and tyrannical rulers of all types.” It is an odd comparison that greatly diminishes the role that researchers play in the construction and reinforcement of social dynamics. In the past, so-called research was used to justify the institution of slavery, the subjugation of millions of Indigenous Americans, and even Adolf Hitler’s racist and genocidal ideologies. The impact of research should not be understated.

How does this relate to your research?

In my professional experience, interviews and focus groups played a major part in the curatorial development of exhibitions. I specifically utilized focus groups to gather feedback on exhibitions of difficult subject matter. I appreciate that these chapters detailed best practices and helpful terminology that will benefit my future research.


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