Skip to ContentGo to accessibility page
OpenStax Logo
Writing Guide with Handbook

13.2 The Research Process: How to Create Sources

Writing Guide with Handbook13.2 The Research Process: How to Create Sources
  1. Preface
  2. The Things We Carry: Experience, Culture, and Language
    1. Unit Introduction
    2. 1 The Digital World: Building on What You Already Know to Respond Critically
      1. Introduction
      2. 1.1 "Reading" to Understand and Respond
      3. 1.2 Social Media Trailblazer: Selena Gomez
      4. 1.3 Glance at Critical Response: Rhetoric and Critical Thinking
      5. 1.4 Annotated Student Sample: Social Media Post and Responses on Voter Suppression
      6. 1.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically About a “Text”
      7. 1.6 Evaluation: Intention vs. Execution
      8. 1.7 Spotlight on … Academia
      9. 1.8 Portfolio: Tracing Writing Development
      10. Further Reading
      11. Works Cited
    3. 2 Language, Identity, and Culture: Exploring, Employing, Embracing
      1. Introduction
      2. 2.1 Seeds of Self
      3. 2.2 Identity Trailblazer: Cathy Park Hong
      4. 2.3 Glance at the Issues: Oppression and Reclamation
      5. 2.4 Annotated Sample Reading from The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois
      6. 2.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically about How Identity Is Constructed Through Writing
      7. 2.6 Evaluation: Antiracism and Inclusivity
      8. 2.7 Spotlight on … Variations of English
      9. 2.8 Portfolio: Decolonizing Self
      10. Further Reading
      11. Works Cited
    4. 3 Literacy Narrative: Building Bridges, Bridging Gaps
      1. Introduction
      2. 3.1 Identity and Expression
      3. 3.2 Literacy Narrative Trailblazer: Tara Westover
      4. 3.3 Glance at Genre: The Literacy Narrative
      5. 3.4 Annotated Sample Reading: from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
      6. 3.5 Writing Process: Tracing the Beginnings of Literacy
      7. 3.6 Editing Focus: Sentence Structure
      8. 3.7 Evaluation: Self-Evaluating
      9. 3.8 Spotlight on … The Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives (DALN)
      10. 3.9 Portfolio: A Literacy Artifact
      11. Further Reading
      12. Works Cited
      13. Works Consulted
  3. Bridging the Divide Between Personal Identity and Academia
    1. Unit Introduction
    2. 4 Memoir or Personal Narrative: Learning Lessons from the Personal
      1. Introduction
      2. 4.1 Exploring the Past to Understand the Present
      3. 4.2 Memoir Trailblazer: Ta-Nehisi Coates
      4. 4.3 Glance at Genre: Conflict, Detail, and Revelation
      5. 4.4 Annotated Sample Reading: from Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain
      6. 4.5 Writing Process: Making the Personal Public
      7. 4.6 Editing Focus: More on Characterization and Point of View
      8. 4.7 Evaluation: Structure and Organization
      9. 4.8 Spotlight on … Multilingual Writers
      10. 4.9 Portfolio: Filtered Memories
      11. Further Reading
      12. Works Cited
    3. 5 Profile: Telling a Rich and Compelling Story
      1. Introduction
      2. 5.1 Profiles as Inspiration
      3. 5.2 Profile Trailblazer: Veronica Chambers
      4. 5.3 Glance at Genre: Subject, Angle, Background, and Description
      5. 5.4 Annotated Sample Reading: “Remembering John Lewis” by Carla D. Hayden
      6. 5.5 Writing Process: Focusing on the Angle of Your Subject
      7. 5.6 Editing Focus: Verb Tense Consistency
      8. 5.7 Evaluation: Text as Personal Introduction
      9. 5.8 Spotlight on … Profiling a Cultural Artifact
      10. 5.9 Portfolio: Subject as a Reflection of Self
      11. Works Cited
    4. 6 Proposal: Writing About Problems and Solutions
      1. Introduction
      2. 6.1 Proposing Change: Thinking Critically About Problems and Solutions
      3. 6.2 Proposal Trailblazer: Atul Gawande
      4. 6.3 Glance at Genre: Features of Proposals
      5. 6.4 Annotated Student Sample: “Slowing Climate Change” by Shawn Krukowski
      6. 6.5 Writing Process: Creating a Proposal
      7. 6.6 Editing Focus: Subject-Verb Agreement
      8. 6.7 Evaluation: Conventions, Clarity, and Coherence
      9. 6.8 Spotlight on … Technical Writing as a Career
      10. 6.9 Portfolio: Reflecting on Problems and Solutions
      11. Further Reading
      12. Works Cited
    5. 7 Evaluation or Review: Would You Recommend It?
      1. Introduction
      2. 7.1 Thumbs Up or Down?
      3. 7.2 Review Trailblazer: Michiko Kakutani
      4. 7.3 Glance at Genre: Criteria, Evidence, Evaluation
      5. 7.4 Annotated Student Sample: "Black Representation in Film" by Caelia Marshall
      6. 7.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically About Entertainment
      7. 7.6 Editing Focus: Quotations
      8. 7.7 Evaluation: Effect on Audience
      9. 7.8 Spotlight on … Language and Culture
      10. 7.9 Portfolio: What the Arts Say About You
      11. Further Reading
      12. Works Cited
    6. 8 Analytical Report: Writing from Facts
      1. Introduction
      2. 8.1 Information and Critical Thinking
      3. 8.2 Analytical Report Trailblazer: Barbara Ehrenreich
      4. 8.3 Glance at Genre: Informal and Formal Analytical Reports
      5. 8.4 Annotated Student Sample: "U.S. Response to COVID-19" by Trevor Garcia
      6. 8.5 Writing Process: Creating an Analytical Report
      7. 8.6 Editing Focus: Commas with Nonessential and Essential Information
      8. 8.7 Evaluation: Reviewing the Final Draft
      9. 8.8 Spotlight on … Discipline-Specific and Technical Language
      10. 8.9 Portfolio: Evidence and Objectivity
      11. Further Reading
      12. Works Cited
    7. 9 Rhetorical Analysis: Interpreting the Art of Rhetoric
      1. Introduction
      2. 9.1 Breaking the Whole into Its Parts
      3. 9.2 Rhetorical Analysis Trailblazer: Jamil Smith
      4. 9.3 Glance at Genre: Rhetorical Strategies
      5. 9.4 Annotated Student Sample: “Rhetorical Analysis: Evicted by Matthew Desmond” by Eliana Evans
      6. 9.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically about Rhetoric
      7. 9.6 Editing Focus: Mixed Sentence Constructions
      8. 9.7 Evaluation: Rhetorical Analysis
      9. 9.8 Spotlight on … Business and Law
      10. 9.9 Portfolio: How Thinking Critically about Rhetoric Affects Intellectual Growth
      11. Further Reading
      12. Works Cited
    8. 10 Position Argument: Practicing the Art of Rhetoric
      1. Introduction
      2. 10.1 Making a Case: Defining a Position Argument
      3. 10.2 Position Argument Trailblazer: Charles Blow
      4. 10.3 Glance at Genre: Thesis, Reasoning, and Evidence
      5. 10.4 Annotated Sample Reading: "Remarks at the University of Michigan" by Lyndon B. Johnson
      6. 10.5 Writing Process: Creating a Position Argument
      7. 10.6 Editing Focus: Paragraphs and Transitions
      8. 10.7 Evaluation: Varied Appeals
      9. 10.8 Spotlight on … Citation
      10. 10.9 Portfolio: Growth in the Development of Argument
      11. Further Reading
      12. Works Cited
    9. 11 Reasoning Strategies: Improving Critical Thinking
      1. Introduction
      2. 11.1 Developing Your Sense of Logic
      3. 11.2 Reasoning Trailblazer: Paul D. N. Hebert
      4. 11.3 Glance at Genre: Reasoning Strategies and Signal Words
      5. 11.4 Annotated Sample Reading: from Book VII of The Republic by Plato
      6. 11.5 Writing Process: Reasoning Supported by Evidence
      7. Further Reading
      8. Works Cited
    10. 12 Argumentative Research: Enhancing the Art of Rhetoric with Evidence
      1. Introduction
      2. 12.1 Introducing Research and Research Evidence
      3. 12.2 Argumentative Research Trailblazer: Samin Nosrat
      4. 12.3 Glance at Genre: Introducing Research as Evidence
      5. 12.4 Annotated Student Sample: "Healthy Diets from Sustainable Sources Can Save the Earth" by Lily Tran
      6. 12.5 Writing Process: Integrating Research
      7. 12.6 Editing Focus: Integrating Sources and Quotations
      8. 12.7 Evaluation: Effectiveness of Research Paper
      9. 12.8 Spotlight on … Bias in Language and Research
      10. 12.9 Portfolio: Why Facts Matter in Research Argumentation
      11. Further Reading
      12. Works Cited
    11. 13 Research Process: Accessing and Recording Information
      1. Introduction
      2. 13.1 The Research Process: Where to Look for Existing Sources
      3. 13.2 The Research Process: How to Create Sources
      4. 13.3 Glance at the Research Process: Key Skills
      5. 13.4 Annotated Student Sample: Research Log
      6. 13.5 Research Process: Making Notes, Synthesizing Information, and Keeping a Research Log
      7. 13.6 Spotlight on … Ethical Research
      8. Further Reading
      9. Works Cited
    12. 14 Annotated Bibliography: Gathering, Evaluating, and Documenting Sources
      1. Introduction
      2. 14.1 Compiling Sources for an Annotated Bibliography
      3. 14.2 Glance at Form: Citation Style, Purpose, and Formatting
      4. 14.3 Annotated Student Sample: “Healthy Diets from Sustainable Sources Can Save the Earth” by Lily Tran
      5. 14.4 Writing Process: Informing and Analyzing
      6. Further Reading
      7. Works Cited
    13. 15 Case Study Profile: What One Person Says About All
      1. Introduction
      2. 15.1 Tracing a Broad Issue in the Individual
      3. 15.2 Case Study Trailblazer: Vilayanur S. Ramachandran
      4. 15.3 Glance at Genre: Observation, Description, and Analysis
      5. 15.4 Annotated Sample Reading: Case Study on Louis Victor "Tan" Leborgne
      6. 15.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically About How People and Language Interact
      7. 15.6 Editing Focus: Words Often Confused
      8. 15.7 Evaluation: Presentation and Analysis of Case Study
      9. 15.8 Spotlight on … Applied Linguistics
      10. 15.9 Portfolio: Your Own Uses of Language
      11. Further Reading
      12. Works Cited
  4. Navigating Rhetoric in Real Life
    1. Unit Introduction
    2. 16 Print or Textual Analysis: What You Read
      1. Introduction
      2. 16.1 An Author’s Choices: What Text Says and How It Says It
      3. 16.2 Textual Analysis Trailblazer: bell hooks
      4. 16.3 Glance at Genre: Print or Textual Analysis
      5. 16.4 Annotated Student Sample: "Artists at Work" by Gwyn Garrison
      6. 16.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically About Text
      7. 16.6 Editing Focus: Literary Works Live in the Present
      8. 16.7 Evaluation: Self-Directed Assessment
      9. 16.8 Spotlight on … Humanities
      10. 16.9 Portfolio: The Academic and the Personal
      11. Further Reading
      12. Works Cited
    3. 17 Image Analysis: What You See
      1. Introduction
      2. 17.1 “Reading” Images
      3. 17.2 Image Trailblazer: Sara Ludy
      4. 17.3 Glance at Genre: Relationship Between Image and Rhetoric
      5. 17.4 Annotated Student Sample: “Hints of the Homoerotic” by Leo Davis
      6. 17.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically and Writing Persuasively About Images
      7. 17.6 Editing Focus: Descriptive Diction
      8. 17.7 Evaluation: Relationship Between Analysis and Image
      9. 17.8 Spotlight on … Video and Film
      10. 17.9 Portfolio: Interplay Between Text and Image
      11. Further Reading
      12. Works Cited
    4. 18 Multimodal and Online Writing: Creative Interaction between Text and Image
      1. Introduction
      2. 18.1 Mixing Genres and Modes
      3. 18.2 Multimodal Trailblazer: Torika Bolatagici
      4. 18.3 Glance at Genre: Genre, Audience, Purpose, Organization
      5. 18.4 Annotated Sample Reading: “Celebrating a Win-Win” by Alexandra Dapolito Dunn
      6. 18.5 Writing Process: Create a Multimodal Advocacy Project
      7. 18.6 Evaluation: Transitions
      8. 18.7 Spotlight on . . . Technology
      9. 18.8 Portfolio: Multimodalism
      10. Further Reading
      11. Works Cited
    5. 19 Scripting for the Public Forum: Writing to Speak
      1. Introduction
      2. 19.1 Writing, Speaking, and Activism
      3. 19.2 Podcast Trailblazer: Alice Wong
      4. 19.3 Glance at Genre: Language Performance and Visuals
      5. 19.4 Annotated Student Sample: “Are New DOT Regulations Discriminatory?” by Zain A. Kumar
      6. 19.5 Writing Process: Writing to Speak
      7. 19.6 Evaluation: Bridging Writing and Speaking
      8. 19.7 Spotlight on … Delivery/Public Speaking
      9. 19.8 Portfolio: Everyday Rhetoric, Rhetoric Every Day
      10. Further Reading
      11. Works Cited
    6. 20 Portfolio Reflection: Your Growth as a Writer
      1. Introduction
      2. 20.1 Thinking Critically about Your Semester
      3. 20.2 Reflection Trailblazer: Sandra Cisneros
      4. 20.3 Glance at Genre: Purpose and Structure
      5. 20.4 Annotated Sample Reading: “Don’t Expect Congrats” by Dale Trumbore
      6. 20.5 Writing Process: Looking Back, Looking Forward
      7. 20.6 Editing Focus: Pronouns
      8. 20.7 Evaluation: Evaluating Self-Reflection
      9. 20.8 Spotlight on … Pronouns in Context
      10. Further Reading
      11. Works Cited
  5. Handbook
  6. Index

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Locate and create primary research materials.
  • Apply methods and technologies used for research and communication in various fields.

Introducing Research as Evidence and Compiling Sources for an Annotated Bibliography explain the difference between primary and secondary sources in the research process. Almost all of the source-gathering information in this chapter thus far has focused on gathering secondary sources. However, your research assignment may require that you use primary sources—not only those you find in the library but also those you create yourself, outside the library, by doing field research, also called fieldwork.

Conducting Field Research

If not applicable for this class, you may be asked at some point in your college career to conduct fieldwork, which is considered primary research (the collection or development of primary sources). You may already have engaged in primary research by performing experiments in a laboratory for a science course or by documenting your observation of a musical or artistic performance.

Fieldwork is the kind of research done when a person goes out into the “field” to collect data. This term is often used by both biologists, who may observe nature to understand plant growth, and anthropologists, who observe people to understand human cultural habits. Social scientists interested in language use and development, for example, have borrowed the term fieldwork to describe the ways they collect data about how people learn or use language. In fact, fieldwork is common to subjects such as education, medicine, engineering, sociology, journalism, criminology, and advertising.

Different disciplines—and different rhetorical situations—require different kinds of fieldwork. If your task, for instance, is to find out what consumers think of a new product, you may need to create and distribute a survey or questionnaire. If you want to find out how many people stop at a certain fast-food restaurant along the highway just to use the restroom, as compared with the number of customers who purchase food, you will have to spend some time observing the location.

No matter what kind of data you collect, the way you represent your research in your written work requires careful attention to fairness and accuracy. These ideas are particularly important when you write about the people you interview or observe. The way you represent them, as well as their words and actions, may present challenges. Be aware of those challenges by considering personal biases as you write about your research participants. Finally, be considerate of interviewees’ time, and acknowledge their help by sending a follow-up email thanking them.

Planning Field Research

Unlike a library, which bundles millions of bits of every kind of information in a single location, “fields” are everywhere, including the campus of your university (academic departments, administrative offices, labs, libraries, dining and sports facilities, and dormitories) as well as the neighborhood beyond the campus (theaters, restaurants, malls, parks, playgrounds, farms, factories, schools, and so on). Field information is not cataloged, organized, indexed, or shelved for your convenience. Obtaining it requires diligence, energy, and careful planning. Some considerations are listed below:

  • Think about your research question. What field sources might strengthen your argument or add to your report?
  • Select your contacts and sites. Find the person, place, thing, or event that you would see as most helpful to you. Will you set up observations, conduct interviews, distribute surveys, or use a combination of methods?
  • Schedule research in advance. Interviews, trips, and events don’t always work out according to plans. Allow time for glitches, such as having to reschedule an interview or return for more information.
  • Do your homework. Visit the library or do a Google search before conducting extensive field research. No matter from whom or from where you intend to collect information, having background knowledge can help you make more insightful observations and formulate better interview questions.
  • Log what you find. Record visits, questions, phone calls, and conversations in a research log. From the very beginning of your research, enter information about topics, questions, methods, and answers into a journal, or use another record-keeping method. Record even dead-end searches to remind yourself that you tried them. This method of organizing information is the writing task for this chapter and will be discussed at length in Glance at the Research Process: Key Skills and Annotated Student Sample.
Three biologists work in the field near a lake with a rocky shore and gather samples for further study.
Figure 13.5 Biologists work in the field to gather samples for further study. (credit: “Biologists track frogs in Eastern Oregon desert” by U.S. Bureau of Land Management/Maria Thi Mai/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0)


In general, fieldwork that relies on observation as a method of data collection involves taking notes while observing events, activities, people, places, animals, and so on. Observations can range from a single visit to one event or location to several visits over an extended period. Consider your research question and topic to determine whether you need to observe over time or just once to get the information you need. You can prepare for your observation by doing some of the preliminary work in your research log. At this time, consider the limitations of only one observation session, which may yield only partial information.

As you plan for your observation, and before you arrive, decide whether you will be a participant observer, which involves taking part in what you are observing. For example, if you observed a volleyball club meeting that you attend regularly, and thus know most of its members or join in activities, you would be a participant observer. You will need to consider, though, how well you will be able to focus on the observation tasks. How actively will you participate in the group/event? While participating, how frequently will you be able to jot down notes or otherwise document your experience? Might you become distracted and forget your observation tasks, and if so, how will you handle that possibility?

Another option is to be a nonparticipant observer. In this capacity, you try to let your presence go unnoticed. Although you are there and observing, you do not influence the situation in any way. If you sat in a corner of an art class at your university to observe what materials students use, for example, you would be an unobtrusive and nonparticipant observer.

When you observe, take detailed notes; without them, you may forget much of what you observed after you leave a site. After recording your notes in your research log, review and rewrite your observation notes as soon after your site visit as possible. Take precise notes, indicating the color, shape, size, texture, and arrangement of everything relevant as applicable. Pay special attention to any anomalies you notice in a situation. Visual images provide excellent memory aids, so consider sketching, photographing, or videotaping the site you visit. If you speak your notes into a recording device, you will also pick up the characteristic sounds of the site.

Your observation notes will become very important as you begin to analyze your data. When you have finished observing, review your notes to consider them for analysis. Ask yourself what kinds of questions or conclusions your observations raise. Record your questions and conclusions in the speculations section of your research log; this material serves as your tentative interpretation of observation notes. These questions and conclusions can help direct further analysis of what you have observed and what you write based on those observations.

For example, consider that you want to determine whether seating is an issue for students eating in on-campus restaurants. You might organize your observations, questions, and speculations as shown in Table 13.2.

Observations Questions and Speculation
Student enters campus restaurant with friends. Friends look around for seating before rejoining student at the counter. Friends take over five minutes to find an empty table that will seat them. Both the students searching for tables and the student at the counter keep checking their watches. The time is between classes but later in the afternoon than normal lunch time: 2:30. How many seats are available in the campus restaurant? Are students at the tables eating, studying, or both? The students appear concerned about time and the opportunity to eat as a group.
Table 13.2 Observations, questions, and speculations

In the “Observations” column, the writer describes, whereas in the “Questions and Speculation” column, the writer evaluates the situation. The “Questions and Speculation” section is particularly important, as different observers usually will have different interpretations. Moreover, both columns might be different at different times of the day or on different days of the week. To increase the validity of your findings, you might get a second opinion on your interpretation by sharing your observations with a peer.


Researchers in the social sciences often use surveys to collect data from a large number of individuals or from groups of people. A survey is a structured interview in which respondents are all asked the same questions and their answers are tabulated and interpreted. A survey would be a good source of data if, for example, you were comparing the eating habits of students who eat off campus with those of students who eat in college dining facilities. Or you may want to conduct research that compares the overall eating habits of students in one on-campus dining facility with those of students in another. You might ask questions such as these:

  • How often do you eat at a campus facility? This question could provide several options to assist survey takers with some ranges.
  • When you eat on campus, which of these dining facilities do you choose? A list of the dining facilities you are comparing would follow this question to refamiliarize survey takers with the names of the venues.

For research purposes, respondents to surveys can be treated as experts because they are being asked for opinions or information about their own behavior. Design your survey questions to be answered quickly and to generate useful information about your topic. To get this kind of information, ask questions skillfully. What and who questions are easy for respondents to answer easily and accurately. Less valuable for a survey is a why question, which requires a more thorough and planned answer. Respondents are less likely to give the proper attention to a why question for this reason. Furthermore, wording that suggests a right or wrong answer reveals the researcher’s biases more than the subject’s candid responses.

The format of the questioning and the way the research is conducted also influence responses. For example, to get complete and honest answers about a sensitive or highly personal issue, the researcher would probably use anonymous written surveys to ensure confidentiality. Other survey techniques include oral interviews in which the researcher records each subject’s responses on a written form. Surveys are usually brief in order to gain the cooperation of a sufficiently large number of respondents. To enable the researcher to compare answers, the questions are usually closed, although researchers may sometimes ask open-ended questions to gain additional information or insights. Treated briefly here, surveys involve complex procedures for the designing of questions, distribution of the survey, and assessment of the results.

A complication arises when a survey requests sensitive information, such as personal experience with drugs, alcohol, or sex, from identifiable subjects. Colleges and universities have “human subject” boards or committees that need to approve any research that could compromise the privacy of students, staff, or faculty. Consequently, consult your instructor before launching any survey on or off campus. However, the simple, informal polling of people to request opinions takes place quite often in daily college life, such as every time a class takes a vote or an instructor asks the class for opinions or interpretations of texts.

In one case, a student who was writing a self-profile wanted to find out how others perceived her. First, she listed 10 people who knew her in different ways—her mother, father, older sister, roommate, best friend, favorite teacher, and so on. Next, she invited each to list five words that best characterized her. Finally, she asked each to call her answering machine on a day when she knew she would not be home and name those five words. ln this way, she was able to collect original outside opinion (fieldwork research) in a nonthreatening manner. She then wove those opinions into her profile paper, combining them with her own self-assessment. The external points of view added an interesting (and sometimes surprising) view of herself as well as other voices to her paper.


Conducting interviews is another method of gathering information. Consulting, interviewing, and using information gathered from professionals in specific fields can offer authoritative perspectives. Other possibilities include interviewing people who have direct experience with your research topic.

If you are comfortable talking to people you don’t know, then you have a head start as a successful interviewer. In many respects, a good interview is simply a good conversation. If you consider yourself shy, don’t worry; you can still learn how to ask insightful interview questions that will elicit useful answers. Before conducting an interview, determine whether it is more appropriate to use a formal question-and-answer session, an informal exchange of ideas, or something in between.

Your chances of gathering helpful interview material increase dramatically when you prepare ahead of time and formulate the questions you want to ask. Consider the following guidelines:

  • Select the right person. People differ in both the amount and the kind of knowledge they have. Not everyone who knows something about your research topic will be able to provide the information you need. Ask yourself
    • what information you need;
    • why you need it;
    • who is likely to have it; and
    • how you might gain it.

    Most research projects benefit from more than one perspective, so plan on more than one interview. For example, to research Lake Erie pollution, you could interview someone who lives on the shore, a chemist who knows about pesticide decomposition, a vice president of a nearby paper company, and people who frequent the waterfront.

  • Know your subject. Before you talk to an expert about your topic, make sure you know something about it yourself. Be prepared to explain your interest in it, know the general issues, and learn what your interview subject has already said about it in books, articles, or interviews. ln this way, you will ask sharper questions, get to the point faster, and be more interesting for your subject to talk with.
  • Create a working script. A good interview doesn’t follow a script, but it usually starts with one. Before you begin an interview, write the questions you plan to ask, and arrange them so that they build on each other—general questions first, specific ones later. Your written questions can remind you to get back on track, should you or your subject digress.
  • Ask both open and closed questions. Different kinds of questions elicit different kinds of information. Open questions place few limits on the answers given: Why did you decide to major in business? What are your plans for the future? Closed questions specify the information you want and usually elicit brief responses: When did you receive your degree? From what college? Open questions usually provide general information; closed questions supply details.
  • Ask follow-up questions. Listen closely to the answers you receive. When the information is incomplete or confusing, ask follow-up questions to request clarification. Such questions are seldom scripted, so plan on using your wits to direct your subject toward the information you consider most important.
  • Use silence. If you don’t get an immediate response to a question, wait a bit before asking another one. ln some cases, your question may not have been clear, and you will need to rephrase it. But in many cases, your interview subject is simply collecting their thoughts, not ignoring you. After a slight pause, you may hear answers worth waiting for.
  • Read body language. Be aware of what your subject is doing while answering questions. Does the subject look you in the eye? Fidget and squirm? Look distracted or bored? Smile? From these visual cues, you may be able to infer when your subject is speaking most frankly, doesn’t want to give more information, or is tired of answering questions.
  • Take content notes. Many interviewers take notes on a pad that is spiral bound on top and thus allows for quick page flipping. Don’t try to write down everything, just major ideas and telling statements in the subject’s own words that you might want to use as quotations in your paper. Omitting small words, focusing on the most distinctive and precise language, and using common abbreviations are all techniques to make taking notes more efficient.
  • Take context notes. Note your subject’s physical appearance, facial expressions, and clothing as well as the interview setting itself. These details will be useful later when you reconstruct the interview, helping you represent it more vividly in your paper.
  • Record audio with permission only. If you plan to record the interview, ask for permission in advance. The advantage of recording is that you have a complete record of the conversation. Sometimes, when hearing the interview subject a second time, you notice important things you missed earlier. However, recording devices may make subjects nervous. Be aware, too, that transcribing a recording is time consuming. It’s a good idea to have a pen in hand to catch highlights or jot down additional questions.
  • Confirm important assertions. When your subject says something especially important or controversial, read back your notes aloud to check for accuracy and to allow your subject to elaborate. Some interviewers do this during the interview, while others do it at the end.
  • Review your notes. Notes taken during an interview are brief reminders of what your subject has said, not complete quotations. Write out the complete information as soon after the interview as you can, certainly within 24 hours. Supplement the notes with other remembered details while they are still fresh, recording them in your research log or directly into a computer file that you can refer to as you write your paper.
  • Interview electronically. It is possible, and useful, to contact individuals electronically. Phone interviews are quick and obvious ways of finding out information on short notice. Even better is asking questions via email, which is less intrusive than telephoning, as your subject can answer quickly, specifically, and in writing at a convenient time. Other electronic media for interviews include Skype, Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams. All of these tools allow you to see the interviewee physically without having to travel for an in-person interview.

Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book is CC BY and you must attribute OpenStax.

Attribution information
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a print format, then you must include on every physical page the following attribution:
    Access for free at
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a digital format, then you must include on every digital page view the following attribution:
    Access for free at
Citation information

© Dec 8, 2021 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a CC BY license. The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.