quinta-feira, 25 de abril de 2013

Pesquisa Qualitativa

Paraphrasing in Qualitative Interviews

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Some people assume that qualitative interviewing is an easy job that almost anyone can do. But that’s not quite true.
Conducting and interpreting qualitative interviews would be easy if our interviewees always provided well-thought-through ideas, and explained those ideas using clear, simple language. But with many people, we have to help them help us understand them.
In other words, the burden of producing accurate information, though shared by both conversation partners, lies heavier on the interviewer. That’s where paraphrasing can be helpful.
Paraphrasing, or restating what we thought we heard the interviewee say while watching for their reaction, gives us a sense of how close our understanding of their words comes to what they really wanted to convey. It’s a form of active listening, and is one of the best techniques we can use to clarify and maximize the accuracy of the information we collect.

Not “In Your Own Words”

I used to think that paraphrasing meant merely repeating back what I heard in my own words. It’s how most sources define paraphrasing and it’s what we’ve all learned from teachers trying to keep us from plagiarizing the source of our inspiration—“just put it in your own words.”
I’ve since come to understand that paraphrasing is actually more complex than that. Simply restating something in our own words doesn’t necessarily mean we enhance our understanding of what the interviewee is trying to convey.
Here’s why.  If we just repeat back what we hear in our own words, then all we do is shift the meaning from the interviewee’s meaning to our own. In essence, we are asking the interviewee if “our words” make sense to “them.”  Instead, we should be asking if “their words” make sense to “us.”  The difference is subtle but important, and has to do with matching our meaning space to that of our interviewees.

Meaning Space

Meaning space is that place in which both interviewer and the interviewee have a very similar interpretation of the concept the interviewee is trying to convey.  According to Dr. Richard Halley, “Your choice of words in a paraphrase should be guided by your guess as to how much ‘meaning space’ your word shares with the speaker’s word.”
As interviewer, our job is to guess the word or phrase that has a meaning space similar to the interviewee’s words. The more the interviewee struggles to express themself, the more important it is to identify words that reside in that shared meaning space.
Paraphrasing is certainly not about trying to find a “better” or cleverer way of saying something. In fact, the best words may be less articulate or precise than words used outside of the meaning space shared with the interviewee. They may instead be words spoken by the interviewee earlier in the interview, words that most people would recognize the meaning of, a metaphor that captures the shared meaning, or words that the interviewee is clearly groping for—those tip of the tongue words that may be hard to bring to mind under the pressure of an interview.

Paraphrasing Strategies

Learning to become a good paraphraser takes practice. It also helps to have a few strategies you can draw on until you develop some of your own. Here are seven paraphrasing tactics I’ve developed and have had success with in my own qualitative work:

1. Connect the dots. Sometimes people leave out a key link in their answer to your question. On the surface, it may not make sense unless you can connect the dots like I did with this gentleman:
Me: “What makes you feel appreciated on your job?” Participant: “My wife works at a place where you can’t take a day off before a holiday. I think that’s just awful; she has so many more rules than I do.” Me: “So you feel appreciated on your job because the vacation policies there are more reasonable than they are where your wife works.” Participant: “Yeah, that’s right.”

2. Name the feeling. Try to get at the underlying meaning, feelings, or intent beyond the words. Sometimes, that means helping the interviewee name their feeling.
Me: Now let’s talk about some specific ways you have felt excluded or treated differently in the workplace and how that made you feel. Participant: I’m the only female engineer in my group and I am the lead, but I feel like I’m the mom or wife.  I am the one providing them the direction on how to do the work. But I notice another group I work closely with, they have a male supervisor. They jump at his requests. Me: It seems like you’re saying you feel that your group takes you less seriously because you are a woman? Participant: Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

3. Get to the point. In their determination to ensure you understand them, some interviewees provide a lot more detail than they need to in order to make their point. It’s one of the easiest situations to paraphrase, since you will have plenty of time to put together just the right restatement. The trick is not to offend the interviewee by appearing to minimalize his/her effort (that’s why I preface my paraphrase below with, ‘So it can take some doing’).
Me: How would you like managers to communicate information you need to do your job? Participant: When it comes to communicating a lot of the organizational needs, those needs, unless they’re short-term, that is something that needs to happen within a 24-48 hour window, those needs should be communicated through email on Monday or Tuesday and given to our supervisors on Tuesday so that they can be communicated to us no later than Wednesday. The person that’s in charge of the organizational updates, that person needs to have that out by Tuesday evening at the latest so that throughout the day folks are able to check on Wednesday so that there’s the opportunity to see it and read it. We know it’s there. They need to make the effort. Then it’s on me if I miss something because I didn’t read it. They’re going to get me to read it if they’re more efficient by sending it out early. I’ve got it on my phone and I can see it when I’m out and about.  Anything they send toward the later part of the week, I’m less likely to check it, read it. I might just say I’ll get to it next week. Me: So it can take some doing, but, in general, email is a good way to communicate as long as you receive the information by Wednesday. Participant: Yeah

4. Use their words. I have found that, when interviewing someone whose first language is not English, it helps to pay close attention to their word choices. Because their English vocabulary may be limited, I try to use some of those same words in my paraphrase. In the example below, the Vietnamese woman I interviewed used the words “total goal” to refer to what I guessed was a full or comprehensive physical exam.
Me:  What could have made your visit better today? Participant:  They want me to come again because my heart blood pressure is high and my heartbeat is fast.  So they want me to come again to reach the result of settling things down. Since today my blood pressure was so high they could not achieve the total goal. Me:  So it would have been better if you could have had the total exam? Participant:  Yes, total exam. That was my total goal.

5. Use a metaphor. Within the same language or culture, metaphors are a universal language ideal for paraphrasing. In the example below, an interviewee tried to explain how an organizational inconsistency enabled her to enroll in a publicly funded health insurance plan. The metaphor worked because I wasn’t trying to understand the specific details, nor was she clear on them herself. Her focus instead was on the unexplainable process.
Participant: They denied us even though we applied before the deadline.  But because it wasn’t on the paper copy, their records didn’t match up. They told us we would initially be denied. But we got on the waiting list. I guess the way to get on the waiting list was to get denied! Me:  Sounds like the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing. Participant: Something like that.

6. Come close. Once in a while you’ll paraphrase something and it will not be quite right but it’s so close that it prompts the interviewee to say it exactly. That’s what happened in a focus group I conducted with seniors about aging in place. In this example, one gentleman gave me his precise answer after I came close.
Me: Where do you see yourself living as you grow old? Participant:  I live in a single-family residence now. Me:  Do you mean your home? Participant:  Yes.  Right now I mow my own lawn.  When I get older and can not do that I will have to hire that done.  Other than that, if I could not get out to buy groceries, there’s Meals on Wheels. The house is paid for.  If I had to move I would probably have to pay rent or something. Me:  It sounds like you like your current situation and see it working for you long term. Participant:  Yes. So I would like to age in place at home if I can. 

7. Say what they won’t. Sometimes paraphrasing is merely stating what the interviewee will not. They talk around it but never quite say it. This can happen if an interviewee feels somewhat uncomfortable about their disclosure or anticipates potential judgment. In my experience, they want to disclose it or they would not have brought it up. It’s just easier if you say it for them in kind, non-judgmental terms.
Participant:  A lot of people don’t like to talk about stuff. Like me, I hold a whole lot of stuff in.  I mean, with me it’s a trust issue.  I don’t open up to a lot of people. I just move on and do whatever. But it gets you in the end, which is why I am trying to work on not holding that stuff in.  Because, say I got it built up and everything and somebody accidentally hits you.  Hey, man.  What’s up?  You just flash on somebody.   Me:  I see.  Okay. So you’re trying to open up more to keep from inappropriately using your pent up anger against somebody.  Participant: Yeah, you got it.

It Takes Practice
As I’ve said, paraphrasing takes practice. It’s not an exact science and actually depends on a bit of intuition. Practicing in conversations with people you trust will make you more of a natural at it. I’ve also found that if you just make the effort, most interviewees will correct you when necessary and do what they can to get through to you. Let them be your best teachers!

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