Blog Entry Three: Email vs Face-to-Face Interviewing

Two of the interviews conducted in the research week featured tenants from the Coventry Canal Basin. The first participant, was Director of Mercurial Dance Oliver Scott, who was interviewed by email. Whilst the second participant was Elaine Tierney, the Chair Trustee from The Tin Music and Arts who was interviewed in person. Both had very insightful responses which will contribute to the text of the academic poster. However, this blog post will be comparing my experiences of taking interviews in both of these forms.

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A week is not a considerable amount of time to collect social research findings. The strain of this was something that I felt less with email interviews than at face-to-face. One advantage experienced was that emails ‘eliminates the need for synchronous interview times’ (Meho 2006: 1288). This meant I could focus on gathering other research findings in between waiting for responses, whether that was more qualitative data or other visual research. Face-to-face interviews however, seemed to require more patience due to the busy schedules of our participant from the Tin. Firstly, we had to wait to arrange suitable times and locations for both parties, this did slow down the interview process. Even then, the priority of their work commitments meant that interview times could be delayed, leaving you in limbo about whether the interview may have to be rearranged to what could be next hour, or day.

Other ways in which email interviews are more time efficient is that transcription doesn’t become a long chore quite like face-to-face interviews, offering more time to analyse interview responses. My week-long email exchange with Oliver took no more than a few clicks in order to transcribe. Whereas a full transcription of a 45 minute face-to-face interview with Elaine took at least a couple of hours. Spending this long to present these recorded responses in a physical form convinced me that this could be a big limitation when researching a larger sample size and will be considered within future sociological work.

 

Oliver scott (2)

Oliver was very cooperative throughout his email interview.

 

However, the access to non-verbal observations such as body language and voice tone at face-to-face helped to enrich the data findings. This was experienced in our interview with Elaine, when asked “if creative agencies work with policymakers, do you think it holds back their critical edge?” she responded with an emphasised “no – we are LOVED because we do that”. Whereas email interviews tend to be one dimensional in their research findings, and are based on your own interpretation of the answers given. The lack of non-verbal communications in this case was unfortunate, as it would have strongly accompanied the insightful verbal concepts given by Oliver.

In person interviews also give more of an opportunity to provide immediate clarity to questions, which was something needed in both interviews. When asking Elaine about the role of The Tin’s artistic work in a post-industrial society, the question had to be rephrased twice to be able to progress towards an answer relevant to our research. Despite this difficulty, the other questions ran smoothly, so I assumed they would also be suitable for emailing to Oliver. However, this would be an evident miscalculation when the presentation of question six was described as ‘clumsy’. This meant subsequent time was spent exchanging emails to clarify a question, proving to be an inconvenience for getting research done.

Choosing to undertake both email and face-to-face interviews during the research week has been a very beneficial learning process for any future sociological research. Overall, I believe that efficiency lies at the heart of any argument favouring email interviews to collect research findings. Through all stages of the interview: from recruitment to post-interview transcription, the email interview allows many practical benefits.

However, what an email interview is less likely to do is offer the in-depth findings (both verbal and non-verbal) that are associated with a successful face-to-face interview. It is participants like Elaine that you wish to interview face-to-face due to the richness of their answers, meaning you can reap the benefits much more than via email.

Although it is evident that face-to-face interviews can be both time and cost consuming, it remains my primary choice of research method.

Email Interview with Oliver:

http://www.mercurialdance.co.uk/creative-agency/

References:

Meho. 2006. Email Interviewing in Qualitative Research: A Methodological Discussion. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology [Online]. 10. 1284-1295 [Accessed on 21/04/2017]. Available from: http://staff.aub.edu.lb/~lmeho/meho-email-interviewing.pdf

-Louis Bebb.

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