Volume 14, No. 1, Art. 12 – January 2013

Stance-taking in Interviews from the Qualidata Archive

Sofia Lampropoulou & Greg Myers

Abstract: Researchers in several disciplines have argued that a social science interview should be seen as a product of situated interaction, rather than as the elicitation of the interviewee's pre-existing cognitive state. We propose an approach for analysis of this interaction based on studies of stance-taking and of responses to questions. Studies of stance-taking can help us understand the process of elicitation; in these studies, expressing one's evaluation of an object is seen as an inherently dialogical act that involves positioning oneself, defining a shared object, and aligning or not with previous stance-taking. Studies of responses to questions can help us apply these general analyses of stance-taking in dialogue to the specific genre of the research interview. In this article, we analyse existing transcripts from the Qualidata Archive and focus on the devices interviewees have for showing that they are taking up the question, and for aligning or disaligning with the stance projected in it, and the devices used by interviewers in follow-up questions to recalibrate the object of stance-taking. Since we focus on the lexical and syntactic form of elicitations, responses, and follow-ups, the approach can be applied, with some important caveats, to typical social science research transcripts, not just to specially retranscribed interviews.

Key words: qualitative interviews; questions; stance-taking; dialogue; reported speech; repetition; ESDS Qualidata Archive

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Literature Review

2.1 Interviews as interaction

2.2 Stance-taking

2.3 Question responses

3. Methods

3.1 Using the Qualidata Archive

3.2 Analytical methods

4. Analysis

4.1 Displaying uptake

4.2 Disaligning with the projected stance

4.3 Recalibrating the terms of stance-taking

5. Stance-taking, Analysing Interviews, and Interpreting Research


Appendix: Data Sources





1. Introduction

Over the last twenty years, qualitative researchers in several social science disciplines have called for analysts to look at how interviewees say things as well as what they say. Interviews are seen as interactions, not as neutral elicitations of psychological states, with the interviewer taking an active role, drawing on conventions of everyday conversation but within constraints of the interview genre (BRIGGS, 1986; MANN, 2011; RAPLEY, 2004; SILVERMAN, 2004). We present a framework for analysing interaction in interviews that draws on the framework of stance-taking, as seen through research on responses to questions, and apply this framework to transcripts from an archive of social research interviews. [1]

Stance-taking is the expression of an attitude, evaluation, or judgement as the speaker's own point of view (ENGLEBRETSON, 2007; JAFFE, 2009a); an example would be someone saying "It is very important". Work on stance-taking over the last fifteen years by sociolinguists, linguistic anthropologists, grammarians, and corpus linguists offers a new perspective on features that had previously been considered separately as different ways of encoding evaluation, evidentiality, modality, hedging, or appraisal (CHAFE, 1986; HUNSTON & THOMPSON, 2000; HYLAND, 1998; MARTIN & ROSE, 2003; WHITE, 2003). The key insight that has brought these different studies together is the recognition that stance-taking is an act performed by one subject in relation to another subject (and previous turns) about a shared object (DuBOIS, 2007). The consideration of stance-taking as an act has moved studies of stance from features of the clause (BIBER, 1999) to the place of these linguistic structures in dialogue (CLIFT, 2006; GOODWIN, 2007; HADDINGTON, 2006; KÄRKKÄINEN, 2006; McINTOSH, 2009). Stance is still a distinctively linguistic approach, in that it is concerned with such structures as choices of verbs, the syntax of turns, and intonation—but in a dialogical framework (MARKOVÁ, LINELL, GROSSEN & ORVIG, 2007). [2]

In interviews, stance-taking is done in response to interviewers' questions, so we also draw on recent work in conversation analysis on the packaging of response turns (HERITAGE & RAYMOND, 2005; RAYMOND, 2003; STIVERS & HAYASHI, 2010). The first turn in a sequence constrains what is relevant in the response, whether it is a question followed by answer, a first assessment (an evaluation of people or events) followed by a second assessment by another person, or story receiving constant responses from the listeners. For instance, a yes/no question ("Do you ...?") calls for a different kind of response from a wh question (those starting with who, what, where, when, which, why or how) and projects a different kind of response from a negative yes/no question ("Don't you ....?"). Responses are not completely determined by these constraints; respondents have devices for transforming the projected response, challenging the terms or the agenda, in every day conversation and also, as we show, in interviews. Some of these devices, such as a delay before speaking, are apparent only in a sound file or a detailed transcript; stance-taking features can be seen in the kinds of transcripts that social science researchers typically produce. [3]

Our data come from the ESDS Qualidata Archive. The use of existing transcripts means that we cannot do some kinds of conversation analysis that have been productive in studying research interviews (such as considering the interviewer's use or withholding of continuers, such as mm, uh-huh, and yeah (RICHARDS, 2011). This is valuable work, but it is limited to specially-produced transcripts. The transcripts and associated information in Qualidata, for all their limitations, provide a typical range of materials and research practices. We believe that analysis of the discourse of interview and focus group transcripts could be part of the toolkit of all qualitative researchers, not just discourse analysts. And we propose that stance-taking can be one important part of this analysis, because it highlights the interactional complexities, for interviewer and interviewee, of giving a personal opinion or account. [4]

In this article, we review the main approaches on which we draw, and the controversies to which they are relevant, and introduce the Qualidata archive. Then we address three main questions:

  • How do interviewees signal that they are taking up a question as stance elicitation?

  • How do interviewees signal alignment and disalignment with the stance projected by the interviewer?

  • How does the interviewer recalibrate the terms of stance-taking in follow-up turns? [5]

2. Literature Review

2.1 Interviews as interaction

Interview transcripts are often used in social research as mines for appropriate quotations, presented as if the interviewees were simply speaking their mind (the metaphor is from KVALE & BRINKMANN, 2009). But researchers in a number of approaches have argued that they should be treated as situated interactions between two people. The literature is now large (recent reviews include DE FINA & PERRINO, 2011; KVALE & BRINKMANN, 2009; MANN, 2011; RAPLEY, 2001, 2004; ROULSTON, 2006, 2010; TALMY & RICHARDS, 2011; WOOFFITT & WIDDICOMBE, 2006). Researchers who have come to this view of interviews include ethnographers exploring reflexivity and power relations, conversation analysts treating the interview as an institutional form of interaction, discursive psychologists considering knowledge production, and sociolinguists interested in varying speech styles. The aims and practices of these researchers vary, but they would agree that:

  • Meanings are con-constructions, not simple expressions of the interviewee's pre-existing state of knowledge or opinion.

  • The interviewer is as much a participant in this interaction as the interviewee, so their turns cannot be ignored.

  • Turn by turn interaction shows what the participants take the aims, conventions, and available roles of the genre to be.

  • These conventions are set within wider cultural assumptions about interaction in the "Interview Society" (ATKINSON & SILVERMAN, 1997). [6]

Because of their interactive nature, interviews are constrained—some would say invalidated (POTTER & HEPBURN, 2005)—as a technique for qualitative research. Interaction must be taken into account in the planning of the research (understanding what can and cannot be elicited by this method), the design of interview schedules (considering how interviewees might infer their role and that of the interviewer from the questions), the practice of interviewing (for instance the kinds of responses given by interviewers), and presentation and analysis of transcripts (for instance, the kinds of detail that can be and need to be represented in transcripts). Interaction is an issue across the full range of research interviews, from highly-structured surveys (e.g., HOUTKOOP-STEENSTRA, 2000) to the semi-structured interviews that are the most common type in our data (e.g., RICHARDS, 2011) to less structured "depth" interviews and oral history interviews in which respondents have extended turns (e.g., STIRLING & MANDERSON, 2011). [7]

For all this focus on interviews as interaction, most researchers continue to conduct interviews, transcribe them in simple form (or not transcribe them at all), and quote bits of the interviewees' talk out of context as the representation of their thinking. One reason the stream of articles on interviewing has had so little effect may be the depth and scope of the implied or explicit critique; some researchers demand a complete reorientation of research and a change in its goals and practices. Much of the discussion focuses on details of transcripts, as if those marks were the main innovation in the approach to interviews as interaction. Because we want to be able to consider the existing body of previous social research, we have sought a form of interactional research that addresses some distinctive features of the interview genre while still being applicable to relatively simple transcripts. [8]

2.2 Stance-taking

There are many linguistic frameworks for language that marks a speaker's relation to what they are saying. We argue that the framework that has built up around the term "stance" is particularly applicable to research interviews. In most interviews, interviewees are regularly asked to take stances, for instance to state their views on some social issue, to evaluate some experience they have had, or to comment on changes in their local community. We can start with an example from an excerpt from a transcript produced in a project on "Young Men, Masculinities, and Health". The interviewer presents this question as a follow-up to what the interviewee has just been talking about, a description of his fitness training. (The transcription is that of the research team, as deposited in Qualidata. We have kept the conventions for indicating interviewer and interviewee used in each project; in the transcripts from this particular project, "I" stands for interviewer, "R" for respondent. Headers give the ESRC project number and the number of the interview. Names of Investigators and project details are provided in the Appendix.)

Example 1: 5371, Int. 18

  • I: Mm-hm. And how important do you think that is for men to be physically capable?

  • R: It is very important because as a man you, you know ... you, um, you get involved in many activities that need strength that women wouldn't normally get into. So, as a man you need to be strong and fit so that you can take on those jobs very well. [9]

"It is very important" is stance-taking. There are two aspects to this response; 1. showing he is answering the question (which he does by echoing the words and using its terms) and 2. aligning or disaligning with the stance projected. The question projects stance-taking ("do you think"), a form for the response (on a scale of "how important"), and an object of that stance ("for men to be physically capable"). The interviewee's response places his evaluation on a scale ("very important"). The answer could stop there, but he continues to give a reason for his evaluation. In giving this reason, he shifts gears, pausing and restarting; we will discuss later the kind of reformulation he does here. [10]

The literature on stance has many studies of specific linguistic markers such as verbs of cognition or perception ("I think", "I see"), adverbials ("absolutely", possibly"), modals ("might") and stance nouns ("my opinion") (BIBER & FINEGAN, 1989; BIBER, JOHANSSON, LEECH, CONRAD & FINEGAN, 1999, Ch. 12). But the focus of stance research is not the list of markers but the act of stance-taking, as in this definition by the sociolinguist John DuBOIS: "Stance is a public act by a social actor, achieved dialogically through overt communicative means, of simultaneously evaluating objects, positioning subjects (self and others), and aligning with other subjects, with respect to any salient dimensions of the sociocultural field" (2007, p.163). [11]

In this view, stance can be represented in a triangle in which one subject (the speaker) positions himself or herself in relation both to another subject (the addressee) and an object (the topic). In our example, the interviewee both positions himself and aligns himself with the interviewer by displaying his use of the same terms, and both of them orient to the same (or what they take to be the same) object, the "it" of the interviewee's response. "Stance is an act of evaluation owned by a social actor" (p.173), so it involves an act, a value, and crucially, a responsibility for that evaluation; once one takes a stance, one may be asked to account for it. We will see later how interviewers use this implied responsibility to elicit elaborations of brief stance-taking turns. DuBOIS's definition refers to "overt communicative means", and though we focus here on lexical and grammatical markers (for reasons we will explain), stance-taking can also be done with paralinguistic or non-linguistic means, for instance by intonation (LEMPERT, 2008), switching to another language or variety (JAFFE, 2009b), and gesture or facial expression (GOODWIN, 2007; HADDINGTON, 2006; MATOESIAN & COLDREN, 2002). [12]

DuBOIS and other analysts of stance-taking acknowledge work in conversation analysis (CA) on first and second assessments, that is, evaluative statements and evaluative responses to them (GOODWIN & GOODWIN, 1992; POMERANTZ, 1984). Analyses of stance have findings that chime with those of CA, for instance about the ways a second assessment (or "stance follow") will not just repeat but upgrade or modify the first turn. DuBOIS sounds very much like a conversation analyst when he says: "In constructing a logic of stance interpretation, what we want to describe is the participants' interpretative process, which we track by close observation of their own interpretive actions in stance-rich environments" (2007, p.157). The most important difference for us is that DuBOIS focuses the act embodied in (but not confined to) the linguistic structure of an utterance, for instance the patterning and variation between one sentence and a sentence used in a previous utterance. One consequence of this linguistic focus is that the analysis of stance-taking can be done with simpler transcripts than those used in conversation analysis. [13]

2.3 Question responses

Interviewees do not take stances out of nothing; they are generally trying to respond to a question or other prompt. To apply the stance framework to interviews, we need to consider work in conversation analysis on the structure of responses, as well as the form of stance-taking. STIVERS and HIYASHI note that "[a]sking a question places significant constraints on what the recipient does next, and in this way places the questioner in an interactionally powerful position" (2010, p.1). But this temporary power is itself open to challenge; the recipient of the question can respond in several ways, besides those projected by the question:

  • repeating the words;

  • transforming the terms proposed in the question;

  • transforming the agenda;

  • rejecting the question (STIVERS & HAYASHI, 2010). [14]

Even in responses that accept the design projected by the question, there are variations. Initial repetition of words from the question may have the effect of "confirming" rather than "assenting to" the words used, that is, showing they understand what they are asked without necessarily accepting the presuppositions (BOLDEN, 2009). The interviewee's response would seem to be particularly constrained by yes/no interrogatives (RAYMOND, 2003), where there are only two alternatives, with one of the responses often heavily favoured by the question form. As RAYMOND points out, the restriction to these two alternatives is enforced in some question-and-answer genres, such as courtroom cross-examination, where any response beyond "yes" or "no" may be stricken from the record. But in ordinary conversation, in the interviews in our data, or in other genres, elaborated and/or non-conforming answers are very common. Respondents to wh-questions also have resources for indicating that the question is problematic in some way, for instance by giving a full clause as an answer where a phrase alone would be a possible and economical response (FOX & THOMPSON, 2010). [15]

STIVERS (2008) notes the different effects of nods as compared to continuers (such as mm, uh-huh, and yeah) in the telling of a story. What is relevant for us is her distinction between what she calls "structural alignment" and "social affiliation". "When a recipient aligns with a telling, he or she supports the structural asymmetry of the storytelling activity" (p.34; our italics). Similarly, an interviewee can respond to a question in the way that supports the structural asymmetry of the interview activity, acknowledging the interviewer's role in asking questions. Affiliation, on the other hand, is when "the hearer displays support of and endorses the teller's conveyed stance" (p.35). Interviewers do not generally convey their own stances, but they do project possible stances for the interviewee, and the interviewee may or may not affiliate with the stance projected. We take up STIVERS' distinction between participating in the (interview) activity and affiliating with a projected stance, but we do not take up her terminology; we will follow DuBOIS in using alignment and disalignment for the co-orientation of two stances, and we will use the word uptake for the display of participation in the activity of being interviewed. [16]

3. Methods

3.1 Using the Qualidata Archive

Our data are from ESDS Qualidata, an archive of interview and focus group transcripts, diaries, and other materials produced by funded qualitative research in the United Kingdom (CORTI, 2011; CORTI & BISHOP, 2005). The advantage of this data source is that it provides examples of the full range of social science research interviews, from different disciplines, theoretical approaches, and topics, It shows a wide range of variation within that genre, from highly structured interviews with set questions to much looser semi-structured interviews, and from interviews in which the interviewer intervenes constantly and challenges or follows up responses, to oral history interviews in which the interviewer intervenes as little as possible and the interviewee produces long narrative turns. We took our data from ten projects that would give the widest range of disciplines and topics; we did not choose projects that particularly suited our interest in stance-taking. We included only one-to-one interviews, since participants in group interviews are responding to each other as well as to the interviewer (MYERS, 2004; BLOOR, FRANKLAND, THOMAS & ROBSON, 2001; MARKOVÁ et al., 2007; PUCHTA & POTTER, 2003). [17]

The key problem with any archive data for our purposes is the quality and variety of the transcripts. There is a large literature on the importance of transcription (BUCHOLTZ, 2000; COATES & THORNBORROW, 1999; LAPADAT & LINDSAY, 1999; O'CONNELL & KOWAL, 2000; OCHS, 1979; OLIVER, SEROVICH & MASON, 2005; PSATHAS & ANDERSON, 1990). Participants in a forum discussion in Discourse Studies stress the variability in transcription practices (BLOMMAERT, 2007; BUCHOLTZ, 2007a, 2007b; JAFFE, 2007; MONDADA, 2007; SLEMBROUCK, 2007). SKUKAUSKAITE (2012) has recently reviewed this literature and demonstrated the theoretical assumptions embedded in two versions of her own transcripts. [18]

Transcription issues in the Qualidata archive include the following:

  • Contextual detail: In most cases, we do not know much about the interviewer or the situation of interviewing.

  • Temporal and paralinguistic detail: Transcribers do not systematically record pauses, overlaps, intonation, or other indications of how the turn-taking was accomplished.

  • Simplification: Transcribers tend to leave out repetitions, false starts, and continuers, change word order to make it more regular, and construct talk as sentences with capital letters and full stops.

  • Accuracy: In every case where we have sound files, the transcriber has got some words and phrases wrong (POLAND, 2003). [19]

Transcripts are decontextualised, reduced to verbal data, simplified, and sometimes left with inaccuracies because the researchers had different aims, did not need detailed transcripts, and in any case could not afford to transcribe with the level of detail an analyst of interaction might wish. But that does not make the transcripts unusable. [20]

We would shift the emphasis from the level of detail necessary to represent a sound recording in print, to the imaginative processes that must always take place in transcription and in reading those transcriptions. HAMMERSLEY (2010) sets as a kind of baseline a "strict transcription", "where words heard on a recording are written down by a transcriber in the script of some language" (p.559). He points out that as readers

"we necessarily generate from these a conception, or description, of what is going on: not of just what is being said, but what is being done, what it means, why it is being done, what implications it carries, and so on" (p.563). [21]

And at an earlier stage, the transcriber had to make a similar effort to make sense of messy material. We would argue that the Qualidata transcripts, for all their limitations, do allow for analysis of some aspects of dialogical interaction, and in particular of lexical and grammatical patterns in constructing turns. [22]

3.2 Analytical methods

In our study, we looked at the dialogical marking of stance in three stages: initial qualitative coding to identify stance markers, followed by more detailed analysis of turn-taking and categorisation of the kinds of relations between turns.

  • We started with qualitative coding of grammatical and discourse stance markers, taking two interviews from each of ten research programmes. We began our search for markers of stance-taking by following the list from a standard reference grammar of English (BIBER et al., 1999, pp.966-976), including lexical markers of stance (evaluative and affective lexical items, such as I'm happy or I love) and grammatical devices such as stance adverbials (unfortunately), complement clause after stance verbs (I think that ...), modals (I might ...), and stance nouns followed by prepositional phrases (it's my opinion that ...). We added discourse features that could mark stance, such as reported speech and narratives. We used ATLAS.ti, qualitative research software to code these stance-taking features, check our coding against each other, and revise our definitions of codes to bring our coding into agreement. A study of these categories of stance terms using corpus analysis software is the topic of another article.

  • With these categories of stance-taking items as a guide, we then went back to look at excerpts from the transcripts in more detail, to consider the dialogic construction of stance-taking. For each instance where we had coded stance in Stage 1, we considered the relation of stance terms used by the interviewee to those in the interviewer's previous and following turns. First we coded all instances of echoing or repetition of the wording of the interviewee's turn. Then we looked for more complex relations between the projection of stance and the ways these projections are taken up or not by the interviewee.

  • We then categorised the actions accomplished in these relations between turns, based on the patterns shown in earlier work on question responses in non-interview conversation (see Section 2.3). There were many examples of each of these categories, across a number of interviews; we illustrate three of these categories in Section 4, using passages selected to show clearly the interactions going on, and to provide a range of examples of the stance markers. One of these markers, the shift is impersonal you, is discussed separately in MYERS and LAMPROPOULOU (2012). [23]

The analyses resulted in our identifying three aspects of the dialogical construction of stance-taking: the interviewee displaying that they are taking up the question, the interviewee aligning or disaligning with the projected stance, and the interviewer's follow-up. [24]

4. Analysis

In the following sections we discuss examples that are representative of these three aspects of stance-taking. The analysis includes some of the most commonly coded features from Stage 1, such as cognitive verbs, adverbs and adverbials and reported speech and thought. [25]

4.1 Displaying uptake

In our data, interviewees do not just answer questions, they typically display that they are responding to the question as stance-eliciting. One way to do this is by repetition of stance-taking elements, acknowledging that they heard the interviewer's turn but not committing themselves to answer as projected. They can use the uptake as a basis for shifting the terms or agenda of the question. In the example below, the question in Turn 1 is only very indirectly related to what the interviewee has been talking about in his previous turn (a trip with his carer to a local shopping centre), but it could be seen as a return to the topic of questions earlier in the interview (about how he has been feeling). We will consider the example in more detail later in the article (examples 2b and 2c, Section 4.3. "Q" stands for question and "A" for answer; "GP" is General Practitioner).

Example 2a: 4410, Int. 12300

  • Q: How satisfied are you with your GP?

  • A: Yes, very well satisfied with my GP. [26]

The interviewee repeats some but not all the words from the question. We can use what DuBOIS (2007) calls a diagraph to visualise the repetitive structure.

how satisfied


with your GP

very well satisfied


with my GP [27]

In Example 2a, the interviewee starts by answering it as a yes/no question, as if he had been asked whether he is satisfied rather than how much, but he restarts and gives the scalar response that had been projected ("very well"), in the unmarked form, as a phrase rather than a full clause (FOX & THOMPSON, 2010). [28]

What does this repetition signal about the stance-taking? Repetition in conversation has been shown to have many functions, including signalling listenership, involvement, and convergence, especially in multi-party talk (CARTER, 2004, p.100; TANNEN, 1989, p.59). DuBOIS (2007) suggests that the repetition, which can be at the level of syntactic pattern as well as lexis, indicates the alignment with the previous turn:

  • Sam: I don't like those.

  • (0.2)

  • Angela: I don't either (p.159). [29]

DuBOIS points out that Turn 3 would be pragmatically odd without the "either" which acknowledges that this stance-taking is in response to the previous stance-taking. When the second turn presents itself as aligning in this way, DuBOIS calls it a "stance follow", and the first a "stance lead". Responses to interview questions are not typically marked as agreeing or disagreeing, but there are nearly always indications of following, or we might say (when it is a question) taking it up, and repetition is one of these indications. [30]

Uptake can also be displayed in an answer that is syntactically dependent on the question.

Example 3a: 4938, Int. 15

  • Interviewer: What is a good night out to you now?

  • Subject: With my friends. Basically. Just a—good laugh, bit of fun. [31]

The subject does not say "A good night out is ...". By relying on the interviewer's turn for the stance-taking terms, the interviewee ties his turn to the interviewer's and displays that he is performing his part in the interview; the form of the turn is presented as a response to that question, even if the content of that response is not projected by the question. [32]

The interviewees' indications of uptake, as they repeat some words and leave out others, show how they are defining the interview as a genre defined by stance-taking. In a large archive, with many styles of interviews, topics, and interviewees, the norm is that interviewees do show they are engaging with the genre, even if the content of their responses to questions is not always that projected by the questions. [33]

4.2 Disaligning with the projected stance

The display of taking up a question is often a preface to a response that may "resist a question's constraints" (STIVERS & HAYASHI, 2010). One way to do this is in a reformulation that focuses on the stance-taking terms. (In the following example, "IR" stands for Interviewer and "IE" for interviewee.)

Example 4: 5017, Int. 8

  • IR: One of the things I was going to ask is whether you think that Britain compared within a global context, compared with other countries, whether you would still see us as a democratic country.

  • IE: I think from outside we are looked upon as a reasonable democracy. The older I get the less inclined I am to the opinion that we have got it right. [34]

This is a hard question to take up, to show comprehension and response. Formally, the interviewer's turn is a complex yes/no interrogative: first it is a report of his own planned question about comparing Britain to other countries, but then the interviewer restarts, with a question about how the interviewee would "see us". The adverb "still" suggests that his stance may have changed. It is secondary stance-taking, taking a stance about someone else's imagined stance, and the subject changes. The interviewee gives a similarly complex answer, starting with "I think", matching the first verb. But then he reformulates the question to shift the terms of stance-taking, from the interviewee's stance on Britain in relation to other countries, to the stance of others on Britain. And he reformulates the interviewer's "a democratic country" (a category) to "whether we have got it right" (an evaluation). He has shifted the ground of the question by altering the stance terms and changing the object of stance-taking. [35]

One form of disalignment, while still displaying uptake, is the questioning of a presupposition. (In transcripts from this project, "L" is the interviewer, and "I" the interviewee.)

Example 5: 5556, Int. 19

  • L: Yeah. And how do you think being homeless has affected you and [son]?

  • I: Ummm, I don't think it's affected [son]. He thinks he's on holiday! He loves it here. Erm, it's not affected him at all. He loves it. Yeah! But, erm, me, I just want my own place now.

  • L: Did it affect him when you, you know because you left your house and went to your ex-partners and then you left there and went to that hostel, did it affect him at all, those changes?

  • I: I wouldn't say so, no. No, he didn't really ... . [36]

It is what the interview handbooks call a loaded question; the question of how they are affected presupposes that they are affected (LEVINSON, 1983). The interviewee denies one part of that presupposition, as it applies to her son, and she does this with transcribed delay at the beginning of the term, and then repetition in a full clause "I don't think it's affected [son]". (The decision to transcribe the "ummm" here is an example of the way a delay can be interpreted as meaningful by the transcriber). FOX and THOMPSON (2010) suggest that repetition of the whole clause in a following turn can occur when some aspect of the question is problematic. What is problematic here is revealed when the interviewee elaborates, and repeats her denial in an upgraded form ("not affected him at all"). The extreme case formulation suggests the argumentative frame she is taking on (POMERANTZ, 1986; SIDNELL, 2004). Then she turns with several markers of hesitation to how it has affected her; here she does not need any repetition of the question at all, because she is carrying out its projected form of answer. Turn 3 is a complex question, with self-interruption and then an account of two moves and then the relevant object picked out: "did it affect him at all, those changes". The interviewee's response is again marked as a stance, as just her opinion ("I wouldn't say so") and she then repeats the negative twice. This emphatic response again suggests the frame of an argument, here about the presupposition that a young boy will be affected by "those changes". [37]

Returning to Example 3, we see as the exchange continues to a more complex case of denying a presupposition in the question. It is worth noting that the response in Turn 2 is all the interviewee, a university student, has said about his social life, so the question in 3 is not dealing with any "activities" of which a mother might obviously disapprove.

Example 3b: 4938, Int. 15

  • Interviewer: What is a good night out to you now?

  • Subject: With my friends. Basically. Just a—good laugh, bit of fun.

  • Interviewer: Does your mother disapprove of any of your activities?

  • Subject: I don't think she really knows actually. I don't sort of come in and say—well I'm sure she—for the last week I don't think she'd know anything of what I was doing actually

  • Interviewer: Does she expect you to be in at a certain time? [38]

Turn 3 again might be considered a leading question; it presupposes that his mother knows what his activities are. The interviewee denies the presupposition, the "actually" setting up a gap between the interviewer's question and the state of affairs. The interviewee shifts the agenda from her attitude to her knowledge. Then he uses hypothetical speech (he doesn't say this and thus she could not know), then interrupts this way of putting it, then interrupts again to say what she does know but breaks off, and then a statement of what she doesn't know. The effect again is that he shifts the agenda, in this case from her attitude to her knowledge, and thus to his control of the situation. The follow-up in 5 recalibrates the object of stance-taking from her knowledge to their relationship. [39]

One way to shift from the projected stance while still taking up the role of stance-taker is to attribute a stance to another person or category of people as an explicit or implicit part of their own stance-taking. CLIFT (2006) has pointed out that unlike stance-taking with such markers such as "I think", reported speech is identifiable as a stance-taking only by the sequential position, after an interviewee turn eliciting stance-taking; there is nothing about the report itself that makes it stance-taking or not. In the examples from everyday conversation that she analyses, the reported speech makes an implicit claim to "epistemic authority", to being the one in this conversation that knows. It can have the same effect in interviews, typically to support the interviewee's stance when there is the possibility of challenge. [40]

The examples of reported speech in our data are often hypothetical, not reports of what was said but representations of what could be said, or even what could not be said (MYERS, 1999). We have already seen negative hypothetical speech in Example 3b ("I don't sort of come in and say"). In Example 6, the same interviewee (IE) as in Example 2 is talking about the same place in his neighbourhood, also using hypothetical speech.

Example 6: 4410, Int. 12300

  • IR: Do you think the [name of new civic centre development] caters for people in the area?

  • IE: Not with every activity they don't no. If you ask the kids up here why they don't go down to the Forum, go swimming or enjoy some of the activities there. Have you seen the old fogies there playing bowls, old time dancing, who wants to do that. You know, they just don't bother looking at the noticeboards.

  • IR: So it has got a certain image then that puts them off? [41]

The interviewer's turn is a yes/no question about what the interviewee thinks, and the interviewee gives a negative answer, three times (not, don't, no), and qualifies it (not "every activity" caters for them, implying some do). Instead of saying himself what activities do not cater for them, he proposes a reformulated question one could ask of a different set of interviewees, in hypothetical indirect reported speech ("If you ask the kids up here why ..."). He picks up his own word "activities", showing how this bit of reported speech is relevant to his own response. He answers that question in direct reported speech, giving a version of what "the kids up here" might say (and it is itself a question in form, constructing an interaction with the hypothetical interviewer). The two activities, "playing bowls, old time dancing" are presented in this attributed stance as members of a category of age-related activities (NIKANDER, 2000, 2009), in contrast to activities that the interviewee has said that kids might like. Apparently "who wants to do what" is not the speaker's rhetorical question, but that of these kids. This complex packaging in attributed stance-taking does not mean that the interviewee either endorses or rejects their view. The you know marks a shift, and the interviewee steps out of the kids' stance to say they "just don't bother looking". The interviewer then formulates all this, signalling the formulation with "so", framing all of this as part of his own stance-taking as elicited by the question. And that is how the interviewer takes it, producing a formulation as a gist (HERITAGE & WATSON, 1979) of what he has said. [42]

Following CLIFT's analysis of reported speech in assessments, we could see the complex attribution in Example 6 and others like it as claims to epistemic authority: as a resident, he claims to know what kids would say. In making this attribution, he shifts from presenting his own view to presenting that of "people in this area", dramatising their voices. But this attribution is presented as being explicitly or implicitly relevant to presentation of their own stance. [43]

 A focus on the details of stance-taking makes it possible to attend to these examples of resistance to interview questions. It is important for interviewers and analysts to interpret such resistance, to see what it says about their questions and presuppositions, instead of treating it as a problem to be overcome on the way to the smooth running of the interview. [44]

4.3 Recalibrating the terms of stance-taking

The form of the interviewer's follow-up turn displays another stage of calibration, checking the response and renegotiating the terms of questioning. Here let us return to Example 2 for an extended passage. The question in Turn 3 is apparently on the same topic as the question in 2, but the interviewer shifts to a yes/no interrogative about a hypothetical situation (not "do you discuss", assuming such issues, but "would you discuss" if you had such issues).

Example 2b: 4410, Int. 12300

  • Q: How satisfied are you with your GP?

  • A: Yes, very well satisfied with my GP.

  • Q: Would you discuss your personal issues with the GP?

  • A: Yep. [45]

The interviewee responds to a yes/no interrogative with a bare "Yep". A yes or no answer to a yes/no interrogative is not usually enough in a research interview (as it is not enough in news interviews [CLAYMAN & HERITAGE, 2002]); yes/no questions are typically taken as occasions to elaborate (SPEER, 2007). Yep (at least, that is the way the transcriber hears it) differs from yeah or yes in that it suggests a finality, an indication that is all one is going to say (BOLINGER, 1946). So this response accomplishes the stance-taking that the question projects, but in some way does not conform to the kind of answer projected. The interview responds with a turn that presents the previous minimal answer as insufficient.

Example 2c: 4410. Int. 12300

  • Q: So you feel quite comfortable to do that?

  • A: Yes, it is near enough on a one to first name basis but out of etiquette we don't but when she comes here to visit me, you know it is a first name basis. [46]

The interviewer prompts in Turn 5 with "so", suggesting that the following formulation is presented as an upshot (HERITAGE & WATSON, 1979) of what the interviewee has said: if he does discuss personal issues with his GP, that raises a further question of whether he would "feel comfortable to do that". It is presented as a statement, but with what the transcriber hears as question intonation. The fact that there is a follow-up question presents the previous answer as potentially incomplete. The interviewee's response in 6 does elaborate, but it does not refer to personal issues. Instead, "comfortable" is rephrased as "on a first name basis", and the rest of the turn deals with whether they are or are not on this basis, not with the discussion of personal issues. All the back and forth, which continues for several more turns, shows recalibration of the object of stance (from ability to discuss personal issues to informality of the relationship), and the terms of the stance-taking (from "satisfied" to "comfortable"), and the subject of the stance-taking, the interviewee's role as consumer of health services, person with problems, or sociable actor. [47]

Example 2 illustrates a pattern in many interviews as interviewers return repeatedly to a topic. The interviewee is not signalling resistance to the agenda or terms of the question, as in the previous section, but the interviewer keeps trying to elicit stance-taking on the objects and in the terms that will be usable by the research project. The Qualidata archive shows a range of ways of pursuing this recalibration, and analysis of stance-taking and responses is one approach to identifying these interview styles and comparing them across research projects and between different interviewers. [48]

5. Stance-taking, Analysing Interviews, and Interpreting Research

We said in our introduction that discourse analysis of interviews "could be part of the toolkit of all qualitative researchers, not just discourse analysts". We meant that this kind of close attention to, for instance, the interviewees' echoing of the stance terms of the interviewer, or their modification of those terms, or challenging of the presuppositions of a question, could be useful to researchers wanting a subtler understanding of how interviewees express their views on the topic being researched, and on how they do this in the specific context set up by the interview. The analysis of stance-taking can lead researchers to key episodes in transcripts, showing the ways interviewee responses rely on interviewer turns, highlighting places where the interviewee's response varies from that projected, and showing how the interviewer steers the course of the interview moment by moment, from one turn to the next. And it is a particularly useful approach because it can work with the kinds of transcripts that researchers typically produce. [49]

Conversation analytical studies of research interviews have called for more detailed transcription practices, in line with those of CA studies of ordinary conversation, including systematic marking of overlaps, pauses and silences, intonation, voice quality and volume, and many other features that can become meaningful in context. Richer, more fine-grained analysis is possible with such transcripts, as has been demonstrated by the analysts we cite in the literature review. But we argue that it is important to attend to analysis of interaction in any transcripts. Discussions about interaction should not get hung up on inexhaustible demands for detailed representations. In the great body of previous work in the social sciences, where data are available, they are available mainly in fairly simple transaction. Analysis of stance and responses to questions are discourse approaches that can apply to the kinds of transcripts most social science researchers actually produce. If we can persuade researchers of the relevance to their work of features such as these, then there is a greater chance that they will come back and do the kind of additional work needed to enable more detailed analyses. [50]

We offer three main findings that can be relevant both to discourse analysts and to researchers themselves.

1. How do interviewees signal that they are taking up a question as stance elicitation?

  • interviewee repetition of stance-taking elements

  • interviewee turn constructed as dependent on stance terms in interviewer turn, confirming their roles

2. How do interviewees signal alignment and disalignment with the stance projected by the interviewer?

  • interviewee reformulation of stance terms

  • interviewee reformulation of stance object

  • interviewee questioning of presuppositions in interviewer turn

  • Attribution of stances in reported speech

3. How does the interviewer recalibrate the terms of stance-taking in follow-ups?

  • interviewer repetition of previous question with modifications

  • interviewer reformulation of interviewee turn in upshots [51]

First, interviewees orient to the research interview as a stance-taking genre. Interviewees link their responses to the interviewers' questions, and what they repeat or build on is the stance-taking parts of those questions. So in a research interview, one is expected to take stances, support them, and account for them, as the main product of the interaction. This would not be true of other kinds of interviews, such as doctor-patient encounters, sessions with social workers, or job interviews. Complaining about one's neighbours in a research interview is treated as a quite different matter from what it would be in talking to the police (STOKOE & EDWARDS, 2007), because in an interview the stance-taking would not be expected to lead to further actions. Research interview questions project certain kinds of stance-taking, with presuppositions about responses and constrained terms for what the response will be about. For practitioners, one consideration is how the repetition and syntactic dependence typical of responses works to elicit useful or perhaps overly constrained stance-taking. [52]

Second, in the interviews we studied, even in the fairly structured schedules in which all interviewees are asked similar questions, the interviewee still has room to shape the agenda and terms of the interview. In the wide range of projects we studied, they very rarely opt out of the interview entirely and refuse to answer a question. But it will not be news to any interviewer that interviewees can answer in unexpected ways, and in ways that are not those projected, or not those that would be useful to the research study. Our contribution is to show that these shifts are often framed in terms on stance taking, focusing on the triangle of relations between the interviewer, interviewee, and object of the stance. For instance, the interviewee may shift the terms by rewording, or challenge presuppositions in the projected stance, or give their own stance only indirectly by giving someone else's stance. We suggest that interpreters of transcripts focus especially on these passages, as quieter challenges to the research framework than a refusal to answer. [53]

Third, the conventions of the interview give the interviewer slots for recalibrating the response. This recalibration uses devices familiar from other kinds of interviews, repetition of words from responses and reformulation of a possible gist or upshot of the response. Our point is that this recalibration also tends to focus on stance-taking terms and relations. Research interviewers, like dogged broadcast interviewers, may repeat the same question in somewhat different forms again and again, or rephrase what the interviewee has said in a way that presents a possible challenge or dilemma. The difference from other contexts is that this recalibration is not performed for others to overhear, and it does not have consequences for the status of the interviewee. But interviewees still accept the need to account for what they have said or can be formulated as having said. Discussions of research interviewing often talk about issues of power (GUBRIUM & HOLSTEIN, 2001; KVALE & BRINKMANN, 2009). But what we see here is a more localised control, given by the question and answer structure of the interview. For the interpreter of transcripts, this is where the agenda of the interviewer and the research project are most apparent. It also becomes apparent to the interviewee, who sees that these people are interested in this particular aspect of their experience or way of talking about it. [54]

Any approach that uses existing transcripts relies on the skills and interpretations of transcribers. In small scale research projects, the interviewer can conduct and transcribe their own interviews; SKUKAUSKAITE (2012) provides an example of the insights possible in this process. But in large scale studies typical of funded projects, someone will listen to a sound on headphones and transcribe it. This person may have an understanding of the methodological debates about transcripts, or they may be following clerical practices for transcription. They will miss a lot. But they necessarily also interpret what they hear in order to put it on the page. When they put in a pause, it does not mean that this pause is longer than other gaps they don't transcribe. But it means they heard this pause as meaningful there. Using transcripts necessarily means relying on these interpretations, while realising their limitations. [55]

If the broad programme of treating interviews as interaction is to have an impact on qualitative research practices, it must start where the researchers are now, with a range of transcription practices based on the insights and interpretations of transcribers. These provide admittedly partial but still very rich materials; they do not show everything that went on in the interaction, but they do show something. [56]


The project of which this study is a part was funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), "The Construction of Stance in Social Science Interviews" (RES-000-22-3269). We wish to thank Jackie ABELL, Argiris ARCHAKIS, Sheila KEEGAN, Alison SEALEY, Villy TSAKONA, Karin TUSTING, and Ruth WODAK for their comments on drafts, and to helpful suggestions from audiences and participants at papers and workshops at the Cardiff University, Lancaster University, the American Association for Applied Linguistics (Denver), and an ESRC-sponsored workshop for marketing researchers in London. But we are of course responsible for any errors that remain.

Appendix: Data Sources

Project numbers, titles and principal investigators of projects from which examples were drawn:

5371: Young Men, Masculinities and Health; 2003-2004; R. De Visser, University of Sussex, Department of Psychology; J.A. Smith, J.A., Birkbeck, University of London, School of Psychology (interviews conducted 2003-2004).

4410: Urban Regeneration, Mental Health and Quality of Life in Wythenshawe, South Manchester; 1998-2001; P.J. Huxley, King's College London, Institute of Psychiatry, Health Services Research Department; R. Thomas, University of Manchester, Department of Geography; A. Rogers, National Primary Care Research and Development Centre; B. Robson, University of Manchester, Department of Geography (interviews conducted 1998-2001).

4938: Families, Social Mobility and Ageing, an Intergenerational Approach; 1900-1988 (100 Families); P. Thompson, University of Essex, Department of Sociology; H. Newby, University of Essex, Department of Sociology (interviews conducted 1985-1988).

5017: A Qualitative Study of Democracy and Participation in Britain; 1925-2003; F. Devine, University of Manchester, Department of Sociology (interviews conducted 2001-2003).

5556: Collective Rights to Health: Exploring the Experiences of Homeless Families; 2004-2005; M. Stuttaford, University of St Andrews, School of Geography and Geosciences; G. Hundt, University of Warwick; School of Health and Social Studies, Institute of Health; P. Vostanis, University of Leicester, Greenwood Institute of Child Health; L. Kelly, University of Warwick, School of Health and Social Studies, Institute of Health (interviews conducted 2004-2005).


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Sofia LAMPROPOULOU received her PhD in linguistics from Lancaster University. She is lecturer in English language at the University of Liverpool, UK. Her research interests lie in the areas of sociolinguistics and discourse analysis. She is author of the monograph "Direct Speech, Self Presentation and Communities of Practice" (Continuum, 2012) and of articles that appeared in the journals Discourse & Society and Journal of Pragmatics.


Sofia Lampropoulou

School of English
University of Liverpool
Liverpool L69 7ZR
United Kingdom

Phone: 0044 (0) 151 794701

E-mail: s.lampropoulou@liverpool.ac.uk
URL: http://www.liv.ac.uk/english/staff/sofialampropoulou.htm


Greg MYERS (PhD Columbia University) is Professor of Rhetoric and Communication in the Department of Linguistics and English Language at Lancaster University, UK. Recent publications include "Matters of Opinion: Talking about Public Issues" (Cambridge University Press, 2004) and "The Discourse of Blogs and Wikis" (Continuum, 2010). He is editor of the journal Discourse, Context & Media.


Greg Myers

Linguistics and English Language
Lancaster University
Lancaster LA1 4YT
United Kingdom

Phone: 00 44 (0) 1524 592454

E-mail: g.myers@lancs.ac.uk
URL: http://www.ling.lancs.ac.uk/profiles/Greg-Myers/


Lampropoulou, Sofia & Myers, Greg (2012). Stance-taking in Interviews from the Qualidata Archive [56 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 14(1), Art. 12,

Copyright (c) 2012 Sofia Lampropoulou, Greg Myers

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