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The Echo Probe

Another kind of probe consists of simply repeating the last thing someone has said, and asking them to continue. This echo probe is particularly useful when an informant is describing a process, or an event. ‘‘I see. The goat’s throat is cut and the blood is drained into a pan for cooking with the meat. Then what happens?’’ This probe is neutral and doesn’t redirect the interview. It shows that you understand what’s been said so far and encourages the informant to continue with the narrative. If you use the echo probe too often, though, you’ll hear an exasperated informant asking, ‘‘Why do you keep repeating what I just said?’’

The Uh-huh Probe

You can encourage an informant to continue with a narrative by just making affirmative comments, like ‘‘Uh-huh,’’ or ‘‘Yes, I see,’’ or ‘‘Right, uh-huh,’’ and so on. Matarazzo (1964) showed how powerful this neutral probe can be. He did a series of identical, semistructured, 45-minute interviews with a group of informants. He broke each interview into three 15-minute chunks. During the second chunk, the interviewer was told to make affirmative noises, like ‘‘uh-huh,’’ whenever the informant was speaking. Informant responses during those chunks were about a third longer than during the first and third periods. If you use the uh-huh or the silent probe, be sure to stay engaged and look directly at your informants.

The Tell-Me-More Probe

This may be the most common form of probe among experienced interviewers. Respondents give you an answer, and you probe for more by saying: ‘‘Could you tell me more about that?’’ Other variations include ‘‘Why exactly do you say that?’’ and ‘‘Why exactly do you feel that way?’’ You have to be careful about using stock probes like these. As Converse and Schuman point out (1974:50), if you get into a rut and repeat these probes like a robot, don't be surprised to hear someone finishing up a nice long discourse by saying, ‘‘Yeah, yeah, and why exactly do I feel like that?’’ (I can guarantee personally that the mortification factor only allows this sort of thing to happen once. The memory of the experience lasts a lifetime.)

 
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