Interview Essay: Detecting patterns across transcripts

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Question: Based on our interviews about race and social class with a small stratified random sample of Trinity sophomores, what interesting patterns do (or do not) appear? Furthermore, do these patterns confirm and/or counter related ideas by Tatum, Lee/Omi & Winant, and/or Armstrong/Hamilton?

Write an essay of no more than 2,500 words that answers the question above, and includes:

  • quantitative evidence from the interviews (such as numerical proportions of sub-groups)
  • qualitative evidence from the interviews (a close reading of how students talk — or were silent — about specific issues)
  • meaningful connections to confirm and/or conflict with ideas from at least ONE secondary source (Tatum, Lee/Omi & Winant, or Armstrong/Hamilton)


Don’t start writing the introduction until AFTER you have detected some interesting findings. First, look for the most interesting and insightful patterns across the interviews, then come back and draft an introductory argument that contextualizes your findings and their broader significance for readers.

Build your paper by exploring the interviews for interesting patterns, and write body paragraphs about the most insightful results of your analysis. Start each body paragraph with a strong topic sentence that points out sharp differences in the interview data.  For example: “Most members of group A perceived X differently than members of group B. . .”), OR emphasize unexpected similarities, such as: “Although some may suspect that group A and B would perceive X different, our study revealed the opposite.”

The strongest body paragraphs begin with topic sentences, followed by a blend of quantitative and qualitative evidence, and connections to secondary sources. Here’s a sample body paragraph from 2011:

While some may believe that higher-income students are more brand-conscious, our study of Trinity sophomores found that both financial aid and non-financial aid students were equally likely to mention brand-name clothing when discussing social class dynamics on campus. Across all 15 interviews we conducted, financial students mentioned either specific brand name clothing or the higher status of brand styles in 3 out of 8 interviews with financial aid students, and 4 out of 7 interviews with non-financial students. For instance, Cassie, who described herself as an “average” middle-class student, explained that she “doesn’t try harder or try to buy like Prada” brand clothing, though she certainly recognizes that some students do this (33). [To do: Insert a parallel sentence and quotation from the other group.] [Elaborate further by interpreting what each interview participant meant by his/her statement, and connect to ideas by key authors.]

Quote only the most relevant words from an interview transcript. To omit the middle portion of a long quote, use ellipses, like this: “Here it starts . . . and here it ends.”

When quoting from an interview transcript in this paper, you may simply cite the pseudonym and page number, like this: (Abby, 23). When citing any other source, provide a full citation, using either Chicago-style footnotes, or MLA/APA in-line citations with a bibliography.

Draw on “They Say/I Say” templates to engage the theoretical readings with your essay.

Feel free to use this methodology paragraph from your instructor, and modify if desired:

To investigate this topic, our seminar conducted an interview-based study of students’ perceptions of race and social class at Trinity. Our interview guide posed ten open-ended questions and three demographic questions that explored topics, such as personal awareness, social interactions, and other students’ assumptions regarding racial and social class differences at Trinity. The Office of Institutional Research and Planning provided our professor with a stratified random sample of 80 sophomores from the Class of 2018, categorized by race (white or non-white) and first-year financial aid status (receiving or not receiving). Our professor sent personalized email invitations to this group, and assigned each of us to conduct an interview with all who responded and agreed to participate. The typical interview lasted about ten minutes, and usually was transcribed by the interviewer. The final sample consisted of 20 interviews: 11 students who received financial aid (5 white and 6 non-white), and 9 students who did not receive financial aid (6 white and 3 non-white). All names are pseudonyms and personally identifiable details have been masked, in accordance with our research ethics confidentiality agreement approved by the Trinity College Institutional Review Board.

Your paper will be assessed based on these criteria:

1) Does the author present a clear and focused argument or thesis statement in the introduction?  Does it respond to the assignment?

2) Is the author’s reasoning persuasive and well developed?  Are the claims supported with appropriate evidence?  Are counter-arguments fully considered?

3) Is the essay well organized with smooth transitions between focused paragraphs? Does it include sufficient background for audiences unfamiliar with the topic?

4) Does the author choose precise and meaningful wording, with fluent syntax and correct grammar and spelling?

5) Does the author cite sources in a standard academic format (or, if applicable, in the format designated by the instructor) so that readers may easily locate them?

6) Does the essay inspire the reader to think about the topic in a new way?

Deadlines — see our syllabus

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