Academic Writing

Rhetorical functions in academic writing: Presenting findings from interviews

Introduction

In all kinds of primary research, empirical data is used to support your arguments and claims. In quantitative research this evidence is usually number-based statistics. Although numbers can also be used in qualitative research, the main form of evidence involves extracts from narrative accounts (interviews, focus groups, ...) of either the respondents or the researcher (field notes, memos, ...) (Johnson and Christensen, 2004, p. 539).

If your data is mainly qualitative, it is important to include quotations from this data in your text. This will give your text authenticity, and will enable your reader to share the world you are analysing. However, it is important that any illustrations or quotations you use are relevant to your study (Collis & Hussey, 2003, p. 300).

It is also important to keep a balance between your own interpretation and the supporting evidence in the form of quotations from participants or notes. Good qualitative reports display a smoothly flowing, natural rhythm of text and quotes - too many quotes dampen the researcher’s voice and make his/her argument difficult to follow, whereas too few quotes may provide insufficient support (Morrow, 2005).

Transcribing and Editing Quoted Material

Record exactly what is said, by whom, plus some indication of tone, pauses, body language, etc, if necessary. Remember that one hour of recording can take 6-10 hours of transcription time.

Transcribing

Saunders & Lewis( 2012, p. 188) suggest the following:

  • Include details of the date, time and place where the data was collected.
  • Anonymise both the organisation's and the respondents' names, using the alternatives consistently.
  • Use italics to signify questions asked.
  • Use CAPITALS to highlight the names of the interviewer and the respondents.
  • Use ... to show a pause in speech, the number of dots showing the relative length of the pause.
  • Use CAPITALS within the transcript to show those words that were spoken more loudly than others.
  • Use (( )) to enclose your description of what is happening such as the participant's tone of voice, facial expressions or other visual cues.
  • Make sure there are no typographical errors and that words are spelt consistently throughout.
  • Save each interview transcript as a separate file.

Editing

If necessary, you can edit the quotations. However, you need to make sure that you do not distort or misrepresent the meaning. There are also certain conventions that you need to follow (Richards & Morse, 2007, pp. 208-209):

  • Avoid misrepresenting what was said, and you should indicate where text has been removed - with ellipses (...) - and where you have substituted words - by enclosing them in square brackets ([..]).
  • Delete any quoted material that is redundant. Ask yourself if each phrase is necessary. A briefer quotation may be more powerful and much more relevant to your argument. If you think the participant is implying something, suggest this in your interpretive commentary.

You may also edit minor linguistic inaccuracies to facilitate reading, but if you decide to do so, you should note this clearly at the first occurrence or in the method section (Dornyei, 2007, p. 297).

Be Careful!

Transcription: I think unless we want to become like other countries, where people have, you know, democratic freedom.

Actual Words: I think unless we want to become like other countries, where people have no democratic freedom.

(Brymon & Bell, 2007, p. 493)

Anonymity

Ethics codes prohibit researchers from disclosing personally identifying information about participants. Therefore, you can:

Quote participants without distinguishing them at all, for example:

Indeed, a comment by one of our managers illustrates some of these complex issues: [quote follows without other attribution].

OR

Identify participants by demographic or other data:

At my age I think we know who we are and what we are. (Female participant, 69 years of age).

OR

Identify participants with letters (Participant A, Manager B), pseudonyms (Peter, Jenny), or by role (Doctor, Patient, Customer).

Including Interviews in your Report

First you need to transcribe your interviews.

Then you can add the transcribed interviews to the appendix. This will demonstrate that the interviews have actually taken place.

You should refer to the appendix when necessary:

The full transcript of this interview is included in Appendix 3 (on page 32).

The quotations are used to illustrate your research findings, and they need an introduction from you which tells your reader how they illustrate that finding. So you need to:

  • Say what the finding is
  • Introduce the quotation by saying who said it and in what context
  • Give the quotation
  • Comment on the quotation by comparing it to other quotationss from the same person, other quotations from different people on the same topic, etc.

There are two main ways of presenting data to illustrate your analysis.

  1. The first is to present your interpretation of findings and then follow with a quotation to illustrate your description. This gives the reader the information to judge whether or not your interpretation represents the data.
  2. Alternatively, you may present a quotation followed by your interpretation. This may show your ability to analyse in fine detail, but it could miss the big picture.
  3. Or, of course, a mixture of the two.

Quote explictly from your transcript to justify your choices:

Interviewee #3 stated that. "...the quality of education is enhanced by..." This was confirmed by respondents 11, 14 and 7 others.

This point has been confirmed by 75% of the interviews with 15 percent not venturing an opinion while 10% believed it is rather due to a stimulating curriculum.

Although you don’t need to include all your primary data, you should make it available in an appendix, to which you should refer when necessary. For example:

Details of all the interview participants can be found in Appendix A, with transcripts of each interview in Appendix B.

Appendices

Put here any data that was too extensive to incorporate earlier. In the text, for example, you might have included the tables / graphs that give the results of your analyses. In the appendices, you can give the raw data/transcripts to enable the reader to make their own analysis; plus lengthy transcripts of interviews or texts, questionnaires, interview guides, texts, ethics forms, and so on.

Reporting Interview Data

Always attempt to contextualise quotations (Where did she say this? Who else was present? What question was she answering? What did she say before this?).

Paraphrase or summarise

When you have added the interviews to the appendix, you can then paraphrase or summarise them in your report. Paraphrase is done as follows:  

According to interviewee X (Appendix 1), the …

It became clear from an interview with Y that … (Appendix 1).

Quoting from interviews

If you literally copy the words of the interviewee, then you need to quote. Finding interesting quotes is easier if you know how to get usable information out of the person during the interview. That’s why you should conduct the interviews in a professional manner.

According to X (Personal communication, December 24, 2012) …

The following format is useful:

1. Short quotations in the text should be indicated by quotation marks.

2. Long quotes are set in an indented paragraph, or block quotes. (40 words is a common cut-off point for ‘long’ quotes.)

3. There are no quotation marks around block quotes.

4. Block quotes may start with the continuation of a sentence from the text:

A customer in his fifties said that

since the budget, life has become more difficult. …

5 .If the quote completes the sentence that introduces it, as in the example above, there is no colon. If the quote follows a complete sentence, a colon can be used to show that the quote is an illustration of that sentence.

One man claimed that ‘life is much harder now’.

One man made the claim: ‘life is much harder now.’

6. Square brackets - [..] - show the author’s editing of the quote, e.g. from ‘My company went into liquidation five years ago  to ‘My company went into liquidation [in France] five years ago’.

7. Ellipses in square brackets […] can indicate omissions; ellipses without brackets indicate hesitation or unfinished sentences. It is important, however, to distinguish between the author’s selective omissions and the interviewee’s speech.

  • ‘My company… you know, it went into liquidation five years ago in France.’ (Original quotation, with ellipses showing the interviewee’s pause or hesitation.)
  • ‘My company… you know, it went into liquidation […] in France.’(Hesitation, clearly indicated.)
  • ‘My company […] went into liquidation five years ago in France.’ (Shortening, clearly indicated.)

8 .More specific conventions for showing pauses, tone of voice, etc. exist, but are not commonly used in general writing.

9. Indicate who is speaking in the quotation, either introducing the speaker before the quote by saying something like 'As John put it,' or 'Anne explained her reasons for this:', or attribute the quote to the interviewee immediately afterwards, for example by writing their pseudonym or [Interviewee 1] in square brackets.

Examples

Interpretation followed by quotation

The British, like the Germans, tended to see themselves as embodying a set of virtues, which the Poles might be encouraged to imitate. The British, however, were uniform in interpreting Polish shortcomings as a result of the previous system of central planning. For example:

But that’s the characteristics of all the former COMECON economies, whenever there is much tougher competition they say that’s too difficult (H2_UK).

[...]We were late, we thought we were looking at a ready made facility, but it was lacking in international safety standards, it was run in the old communist way (H4_UK).

The British perceived the Poles to be in a process of rapid mental transformation, as the shadows of central planning disappeared.

[...] [Poles] are moving from ‘write me a rule’ people, from one type of society to another (K1_UK).

Chapman, M., Gajewska-De Mattos, H., Clegg, J. & Buckley, P. J. (2008). Close neighbours and distant friends: Perceptions of cultural distance. International Business Review, 17, 217–234.

 

Campbell (1997) refers to an angle as a "perspective that dominates a story". In our study, research and writing was reported as always being guided by an angle. It was described as a "thrust" or "driving force" of an assignment - the new "twist" or "hook" that directs the story. An angle was also described as a proposition or statement. In the following extract one journalist relates this idea to the tragic events of the 11 September.

To start off with, there was the straight reporting of facts: a plane has hit the World Trade Center, then a second plane has hit the WTC ... The default angle is "what has happened" ... (QC).

Most notably though, an angle was often presented as a hypothesis or conjecture about something suspected of being the case, and this is one sense in which it can be understood as motivating subsequent information seeking. QC continued:

But this soon develops, the new "angle" comes into play. I remember on the day that by the time of the second plane, I and others were saying "This must be an act of terrorism, bemuse this is not coincidental, an accident ...". So had I been writing the story, I would have begun building up information to support my hypothesis that the acts of September 11 were terrorism. The standard journalistic questions of who, what, why, when, how would have been asked about the events against the backdrop of my hypothesis of terrorism.

And he summarises:

Essentially there is an angle to all news and features; it is really a working hypothesis that translates the gathered facts, which may include some speculation, into a coherent account (QC).

(Attfield, S. & Dowell, J. (2003). Information seeking and use by newspaper journalists. Journal of Documentation, 59(2), 87-204.)

 

Interestingly, above CJ indicated that originality checking is only one reason for this initial search. In many of the accounts of search activity, interviewees described pursuing multiple concurrent information goals. In the following, MG describes extending this initial search motivated by the goal of developing a better personal understanding of an issue:

Obviously the main interest is whether it has been in a British newspaper ... but I like to know whether it has been in the LA Times and the cutting might well tell you something useful anyway ... it might give you background on the stories ... things in the background that are not apparent to you when you are looking at the thing to write a story ...

And in the following extract, DI describes integrating originality checking with the gathering of potential content that she might later include in her copy[1]:

... the first thing you do is go into your database ... to find out if a similar story's been written before ... and erm ... just to see maybe if another story's touched on it in the past, say, that you can pull out bits from that and add it to your story.

In the model we present below, we show that alongside the goal of originality checking, the goals of constructing a personal understanding and generating potential content are active during the preparation phase of the assignment.

(Attfield, S. & Dowell, J. (2003). Information seeking and use by newspaper journalists. Journal of Documentation, 59(2), 87-204.)

 

The British respondents, by contrast, sought explanation of their Polish counterparts in the legacy of communism. Here is a British manager on the centralised nature of older Polish organisational structures:

In our company in Warsaw, where everyone has e-mail, fax, it’s very easy to communicate with everyone from the senior management to the shop floor. In the old state owned company there was only one fax in the office of the managing director, and everything had to go through him. We were trying to show that if it works well in 'Company I–Poland’ it could also work there [in Poznan] (I1_UK).

Chapman, M., Gajewska-De Mattos, H., Clegg, J. & Buckley, P. J. (2008). Close neighbours and distant friends: Perceptions of cultural distance. International Business Review, 17, 217–234.

 

Developing personal understanding

In our study, interviewees emphasised the importance of developing their personal understanding of an issue to support further information seeking and also to provide their readers with an informed interpretation of events. A science correspondent described the importance of background research in preparation for an interview:

I certainly wouldn't like to have spoken to him without having researched the subject before, because I didn't know anything about it and I wouldn't have known the questions to ask (GQ).

Developing a better personal understanding also facilitated more focused information seeking with respect to online cuttings archives. A junior news journalist said:

It's a question of finding out key points ... and then using Lexis[2] to investigate them further. You can home in on a particular issue (RK).

On background information facilitating an informed interpretation, MG said:

It just puts the whole thing in context and enables you to interpret the latest story in the light of what's gone before ... But you don't always have that knowledge yourself, so you have to acquire it from somewhere else.

(Attfield, S. & Dowell, J. (2003). Information seeking and use by newspaper journalists. Journal of Documentation, 59(2), 87-204.)

 

Though everyone said that intradivision relationships were the key topic to address, the team could not agree on a goal for the retreat and spent the first half of its life describing and rejecting a series of ideas. Statements 1-3 of the following excerpt show how little concrete progress the team had made halfway through its calendar....

Excerpt 6 (E6). The hospital administrators hold their fifth meeting, in the sixth week of a 12-week span.

  1. Bernard (to Bill, just before the meeting): I'm gonna bring Tom [the division chief] to the next meeting, Bill. . . . Last time we were struggling like we are here - Tom [really helped] to sort things out . . . .
  2. Bernard (convening meeting): . . . I think we need to . . . brainstorm about [the program] - see what we might come up with, and bounce it off Tom next time. (He recaps an idea he brought to the previous meeting.)
  3. Sandra: We'd each be responsible for an hour of the program? As facilitators, or role playing - whatever we decided to do?
    (Later in the meeting, there was a dramatic shift in the discussion when Nancy described a management simulation program on the problems of middle managers, run by a consultant who worked nearby.)
  4. Sandra: If awareness is all that comes out of the day . . . I think that's a good - a reasonable goal.

(Gersick, C. J. G. (1988). Time and transition in work teams: Toward a new model of group development. The Academy of Management Journal, 31, 9-41)

 

Even long blocks of uninterrupted time were not recognized as opportunities for deep concentration because they were not designated as such ahead of time. Only in retrospect did engineers know that they just had an extended period of time to accomplish substantive individual work. As one engineer described, "I am constantly looking over my shoulder, fearing that someone is about to throw something at me." Another engineer explained, "Working on Saturdays is much more productive .... I can sit down and work without always worrying that something is about to sidetrack me."

(Perlow, L. A. (1999). The time famine: Toward a sociology of work time. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(1) , 57-81.)

 

Engineers complained that crises continuously arose. From their perspective a crisis was anything that had to be done urgently, taking time away from the work that they would have "normally" done to make progress on their individual deliverables. One engineer explained, "Every Sunday night I used to make a 'to do' list for the week. By Monday morning I was already off schedule. I ended up feeling so bad about it, I just decided the list wasn't worth it." Another engineer complained, "I can hardly get my coat off before the crises start.... Every morning my priorities seem to shift."

(Perlow, L. A. (1999). The time famine: Toward a sociology of work time. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(1) , 57-81.)

Quotation followed by interpretation

First Meeting and Phase 1

Almost immediately, in every team studied, members displayed the framework through which they approached their projects for the first half of their calendar time. Excerpts show the scope, variety, and nature of those frameworks.

Excerpt 1 (E1). A team of three graduate management students start their first, five-minute encounter to plan work on a group case assignment, defined by the professor as an organizational design problem.4

  1. Jack: We should try to read the [assigned] material.
  2. Rajeev: But this isn't an organizational design problem, it's a strategic planning problem.
  3. (Jack and Bert agree.)
  4. Rajeev: I think what we have to do is prepare a way of growth [for the client].
  5. (Nods, "yes" from Jack and Bert.)

Excerpt 1, representing less than one minute from the very start of a team's life, gives a clear view of the opening framework. The team's approach toward its organizational context (the professor and his requirements) is plain. The members are not going to read the material; they disagree with the professor's definition of the task and will define their project to suit themselves.

(Gersick, C. J. G. (1988). Time and transition in work teams: Toward a new model of group development. The Academy of Management Journal, 31, 9-41)

 

The follow-up interviews indicated that the six students felt that they had not only improved but also gained confidence in writing emails in English; these observations can be seen in the following accounts by Keiko and Eri:

[1] Before taking this class, I did not have opportunities to write emails in English. So I didn’t know what they looked like, and my vocabulary choices were quite limited. However, as I read and analyzed a variety of email samples in this writing class, I learned some guidelines to draw upon and was able to develop my vocabulary choices. The increasing choices allowed me to see email writing as very enjoyable and to become confident in writing in English. (Keiko)

[2] Because I had no tools to refer to for email writing, I was very much afraid of email-writing activities when this course started. However, as I learned a variety of contexts for using the words that I had already known, I realized that email writing is not as difficult as had first thought. Above all, I found it very interesting to get a response from the reader of my email about what I wrote. This inspired me to write more and communicate more without being afraid of making mistakes. (Eri)

Extracts [1] and [2] provide an interesting insight into the nature of confidence and its relation to genre knowledge development. Both students recognize benefits gained in relation to confidence, but they experience this benefit for different reasons. Keiko’s confidence was increased due to her improved knowledge of language choices, while Eri gained confidence due to her improved sense of audience. The results suggest that these types of benefits may not happen concurrently for the same individuals; the type of benefits received may depend on an individual’s approach to writing and the factors considered when completing the genre-based tasks.

(Yasuda, S. (20110. Genre-based tasks in foreign language writing: Developing writers’ genre awareness, linguistic knowledge, and writing competence. Journal of Second Language Writing, 20, 111–133.)

 

Excerpt 7 (E7). The following comes from an interview with the hospital team's leader:

He says "Do what you want. Spend what you want." Then he came to the damn meeting and was worried about money! Giving me mixed signals! That's when I decided, I'm gonna spend what I want and make my own decisions ... .

By the time the division chief met with the team, the decision to hire the facilitator - the largest expense - had already been made. It was "too late" to be "worried about money," and the team never checked its budget with the chief.

(Gersick, C. J. G. (1988).Time and transition in work teams: Toward a new model of group development. The Academy of Management Journal, 31, 9-41)

 

The following is a response to post 2, which clearly shows the “thesis-details” pattern:

  1. teacher is to intiate spirit for me, i think that teacher is to intiate spirit.We have learned so many years. Now we know the method to grasp knowledge and the criterion to found our own moral. What we really need is the spirit to bestir us forward, a spirit lead us to pursue science and truth (SABRINAR)

The respondent, SABRINAR, first states the main point in the subject line as well as in the beginning of the body text, “for me, I think that teacher is to intiate spirit.” Then the respondent explains the reasons why a teacher needs to kindle the spirit of intellectual pursuit in students.

(You, X. (2008). Rhetorical strategies, electronic media and China English. World Englishes, 27, 133-149)

Others

I would not use public transport in the evening because the kids go to swimming and football which are miles apart (GD)

 

The bus is an extension of my social club really, all my friends are on the bus and we talk a lot, it’s also cheaper than getting a taxi to and from town you know (Interview 15).

 

When interviewing Mrs. Smith, she indicated how she handles her small business. (See Appendix A).

Uses

Most of the time, the extracts from the accounts that you quote will be used to provide evidence for your stance or claims.

However, you can also:

  • use quotations as examples or illustrations
  • compare and contrast quotations from your own data or from other researchers' data
  • evaluate your own or other researchers' data
  • use quotations to agree or disagree with other researchers
  • use quotations as a starting point for further research
  • use your quotations as explanations
  • use quotations to enable respondents' voices to be heard
  • use quotations to improve readability, and so on.

NB: But do NOT, use quotations to make your points. Use your own words for that.

Language

Reporting - Paraphrasing and Summarising

Reporting interviews uses paraphrase and summary to acknowledge the participant's. You can extract and summarise important points, while at the same time making it clear from whom and where you have got the ideas you are discussing and what your point of view is. Compare, for example:

Participant 1 claims that a far more effective approach is ...
Participant 1 points out that a far more effective approach is ...
A far more effective approach is ... (Participant 1)

The first one is the participant's point of view with no indication about your point of view. The second one is the participant's point of view, which you agree with, and the third is your point of view, which is supported by Participant 1.

Here are some more expressions you can use to refer to someone's words that you are going to paraphrase:

If you agree with what the speaker says.

Participant 1 indicates that ...

Participant 1 reveals that ...

Participant 1 shows that ...

Turning to Participant 1, one finds that ...

Reference to Participant 1 reveals that ...

In Interview 1, GC stated that ...

As GC points out, ...

As GC perceptively states, ...

As GC has indicated, ...

GC has drawn attention to the fact that ...

GC correctly argues that ...

GC rightly points out that ...

GC makes clear that ...

If you disagree with what the speaker says.

GC claims that ...

GC states erroneously that ...

The words of GC assert that ...

GC feels that ...

However, BF does not support GC's argument that ...

If you do not want to give your point of view about what the speaker says.

According to GC ...

It is the view of Customer 1that ...

The opinion of the manger that ...

X has expressed a similar view.

X reports that ...

The director notes that ...

X states that ...

X observes that ...

X concludes that ...

X argues that ...

Quoting

Sometimes you may want to quote an interviewee's words exactly, not paraphrase them. If you decide to quote directly from am interviewee, you will need an expression to introduce it and quotation marks will need to be used:

As X said/says, "... ..."

As X stated/states, "... ..."

As X wrote/writes, "... ..."

As X commented/comments, "... ..."

As X observed/observes, "... ..."

As X pointed/points out, "... ..."

To quote from X, "... ..."

It was X who said that "... ..."

This example is given by X: "... ..."

According to X, "... ..."

X claims that, "... ..."

The opinion of X is that, "... ..."

In all cases, make sure the speaker is identified (with a pseudonym, of course).

Concluding

After quoting evidence you reach a conclusion:

The evidence seems to indicate that...

It must therefore be recognised that...

The indications are therefore that...

It is clear therefore that ...

Thus it could be concluded that...

The evidence seems to be strong that...

On this basis it may be inferred that...

Given this evidence, it can be seen that...

Further details

  • Evaluating other points of view

You can use quotations to evaluate your others' points of view.

See: Writing Functions 12: Evaluating

  • Indicating a gap

You can use quotations to justify the present or further work by indicating a gap.

See: Writing Functions 21: Indicating a Gap

  • Comparing & Contrasting

When you are working with other people's ideas, you will compare and contrast the different ideas and your own, discussing advantages and disadvantages.

See: Writing Functions 13: Comparing

  • Synthesising

You will need to summarise other people's ideas, combine them and come to conclusions.

See: Writing Reporting Synthesis

  • Generalising

In most cases, the conclusions you come to and the points of view you hold will be qualified and generalisations will be made.

See: Writing Functions 14: Generalising

  • Expressing degree of certainty

You may also have different degrees of certainty about your claims.

See: Writing Functions 15: Certainty

  • Providing support

You can use quotations to provide evidence to support your points of view and conclusions.

See: Writing Functions 20: Supporting

  • Analysis

One thing that you learn in higher education is how to analyse. It is an essential part of writing critically. You can analyse quotations.

See: Writing Functions 17: Analysis

  • Supporting an argument: Illustrating and exemplifying ideas

You can use quotations as examples or illustrations to support your conclusions.

See: Writing Functions 8: Examples

  • Giving reasons and explanations

And you will always give reasons and explanations for your claims and points of view. Quotations can be used.

See: Writing Functions 16: Reasons

  • Drawing conclusions

At various stages during your writing, you will need to sum up your argument and come to a conclusion about your quotations.

See: Writing Functions 31: Concluding

refs