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Verbal Respondents

Some people try to tell you too much. They are the kind of people who just love to have an audience. You ask them one little question and off they go on one tangent after another, until you become exasperated. Converse and Schuman (1974:46) recommend ‘‘gentle inattention’’—putting down your pen, looking away, leafing through your papers. Nigel King (1994:23) recommends saying something like: ‘‘That’s very interesting. Could we go back to what you were saying earlier about . . .’’

You may, however, have to be a bit more obvious. New interviewers, in particular, may be reluctant to cut off informants, afraid that doing so is poor interviewing technique. In fact, as William Foote Whyte notes, informants who want to talk your ear off are probably used to being interrupted. It’s the only way their friends get a word in edgewise. But you need to learn how to cut people off without rancor. ‘‘Don’t interrupt accidentally ...,’’ Whyte said, ‘‘learn to interrupt gracefully” (1960:353, emphasis his). Each situation is somewhat different; you learn as you go in this business.

 
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