Phone Interviews

A big part of my project his semester is interviewing, so that I can collect multiple perspectives about my topic. Unfortunately, all of my interviews so far (1 and a half) have been by phone, which makes it really hard to keep any sort of transcript. Though it’s easy to keep thorough enough notes, I’m not able to accurately type out an in time transcript and still pay enough critical attention to direct the conversation. I tried beforehand to find ways of recording phone conversations, but most sources said it was excessively difficult and potentially required ongoing subscriptions to recording and storage services.

So, my challenge comes from taking my notes and weaving an accurate narrative of the interviewee’s perspective and potentially the overall interaction. I don’t want to misappropriate quotes.

I wonder, though, if this is similar to conundrums at the core of creative nonfiction (cnf) essay writing? When I took Art of the Essay, there was a lot of talk about “emotional truths,” an idea from Mimi Schwartz’s essay, “Memoir? Fiction? Where’s the line?” The concept of emotional, or personal, truth can allow the truth of how you remember an event stand in for specific, real details of that event. When it was a just a personal narrative I was mostly on board with that idea. It let’s you collapse and stretch time as well as speak to a more deliberate theme. This is an excerpt from a short essay I wrote for that class:

“I knew you would react this way.” To be fair, I don’t know if she said that. It’s altogether possible that it was me saying it to myself, days after.

“Why?” I definitely asked that. Several times. It’s the “why” that has the potential to resolve. Maybe if I know what the issue was I can fix it. Maybe this will never happen again. Maybe I’ll never have to feel this way ever again because I won’t do the thing, whatever it is, ever again.

I have to laugh now, because if you ever have to ask “Why?” more than once then you probably just aren’t listening to the response. Some things can be too hard to hear.

In this essay, most of my dialogue is actual truth. That’s likely why the dialogue was so sparse. I didn’t want to take an imaginative leap with it, nor did I want to simply paraphrase what I remember being said, because the story is less about the specific words used and more about the feelings she expressed and the feelings I felt in return. I thought it was better to pick the most necessary, honest parts of the dialogue and then reflect on them emotionally.

That being said, my capstone topic is inherently outside of myself. Even though I was present (and thus have my own ‘truth’) for the interviews, I’m unsure if the genres of interview and cnf can so gracefully coalesce under the same message. The point of an interview transcript is to document specifics, and though I did pull a few specific quotes, much of what was said will likely end up paraphrased. The potential danger here that I see would be if I were to type up a mock transcript of the interview, and use that specific story, without it being the actual transcript. Is there responsibility or liability involved in that? Am I getting to bogged down in that?

Perhaps once I am able to conduct an in person interview, the relationship will become more clear.

Emily Post

Mostly books and buildings, with a hefty dose of veggie foods.

One thought to “Phone Interviews”

  1. Hey Emily! Your post stuck out to me, because interviewing is a big part of my capstone project as well. I’ve only completed one so far and it was in person, so I can’t speak specifically to the difficulties of transcribing phone interviews; however, I think accurately conveying the ideas of others is something anyone in our shoes struggles with. Personally I worry that specific quotes I choose to include in my finished project might frame a conversation wrong or paint someone’s opinions in a different light than intended. In regards to your project, I wouldn’t get too bogged down in the transcription of your phone interviews, but I would be careful about direct quotes unless you are sure. When conducting interviews and relaying someone else’s words, I feel like we take on an ethical code similar to that of journalists. Be as honest, transparent, and unbiased as possible.

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