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 Interpretive Research: Data Production


Written Surveys

Student Work and Projects



  1. An interview produces data in the form of the tape-recording, transcript (typed word-for-word version of the interview), or extensive notes (not recommended).

  2. An interview is best done one-on-one and face-to-face. It may also be done in a small group, or by telephone, or by email or internet chat.

  3. Remember that an interview is not anonymous! Do not ask highly personal or embarassing questions! Try to build up a rapport or friendly relationship during the interview. Start by asking about a person's career history or general background and then move to the simpler questions on your topic. Build up to the more complex or important questions. Do not leave the most important questions till last.

  4. If tape-recording (recommended), put people at ease by telling them at the start of the interview that if, at the end, there is anything they would like you to erase from the tape, you will go back and erase it. Let them know that having a tape lets you pay more attention to what they are saying now, instead of worrying about writing notes during the interview.

  5. Always tell people ahead of time what the interview will be about.

  6. Some of your questions should be the same for all the people you interview. This will let you compare their answers directly. You may also ask some follow-up questions that may be individual and different for each person.

  7. If people are confused about the meaning of a question explain it. Ask follow-up questions to get into more detail about examples and about why they feel as they do. Remember the purpose of interviews is to get in depth with people about a topic.

  8. Bias. Tell people at the start of the interview that at the end you will be happy to tell them your own opinions, if they are interested. During the interview try not to display your own opinions, because this may influence how other people answer.

  9. Try to keep your interview to 15-20 minutes for students and 20-30 minutes for others.

Written Surveys

  1. The purpose of written surveys is to get information from a larger number of people than you can interview.

  2. It is recommended that you try out your survey questions with people in interviews before handing out the survey, and that you do a few interviews after you look at the written survey results to ask people (not necessarily the same ones!) why they answered key questions as they did.

  3. In a written survey be especially careful to avoid ambiguous questions. You will not be around to clarify your intentions. Try your questions out with someone.

  4. Bias. While bias is less intense in a survey, you should still try to make sure that someone reading your questions cannot easily tell what your own opinions on the subject are. Test this out with someone before handing out your survey.

  5. Begin your survey with Demographic Items. These are items that help you describe the general characteristics of people answering your survey, e.g. Sex, Age, Number of years of teaching experience, Grade level, Subject area, etc.

  6. Give clear instructions on how to answer each type of item. For example, say: check the answer that best applies to you, or check all the responses that you agree with.

  7. Explain to people in writing at the top of the survey or in a cover page why you are doing the survey and what it is about.

  8. Make the survey anonymous. People should not identify themselves by name on the survey form.

  9. Expect to get only from 20% to 50% of the surveys you hand out returned. Hand out more than you need to.

  10. Group all items of the same format together: multiple choice items, written response items, and Likert items. Give separate instructions for each section.

  11. Try to make sure people can complete your survey in 20 minutes or less.

Likert Attitude Scale Items

If you are trying to assess the attitudes of a group of people who have something in common, you can use a Likert Scale. In a Likert Scale, every item is a statement, not a question. Every statement is opinionated, it takes a stand for or against something. Bias is avoided by having half the statements on each topic in favor of it, and half the statements against it. A Likert Scale therefore has an even number of items.

For each item on a Likert Scale there are 5 possible responses:

Strongly Agree  Agree  Undecided  Disagree  Strongly Disagree

SA                    A        U                D            SD

See Data Analysis for methods of analyzing results from Likert Scales.


Student Work and Projects

Interpretive or analytical style qualitative research does not just use interview and surveys as data. You can also analyze documents, textbooks, student writing, student project work, or other forms of informational materials.

You need to decide on what you are trying to find out, and then you should create a list of specific criteria by which to decide whether what you are looking for does or does not exist in a particular item (e.g. in a student's writing or oral presentation). This is very similar to setting up grading criteria, but in research you are more interested in just describing the students' work. Later on you can also evaluate it, based on the description.

Formal methods of analysis of written materials use the techniques of Discourse Analysis. For other materials you can use Semiotic Analysis. These are advanced techniques. You should consult with your instructor or advisor for advice on what specific methods will be appropriate for your particular research project.


Methods of Data Analysis