The Role of Informal Conversations in Generating Data, and the Ethical and Methodological Issues

Keywords: conversations, informal interviews, unstructured interviews, conversations with a purpose, ethical issues, ethics committee, ethical guidelines, methodological issues, fieldwork


Arguing that the role of informal conversations in qualitative social and educational research methodologies is contested but also relatively neglected, in this article we set out how the method has influenced our research approaches and practice. We use an example of a conversation between one of us and a participant to highlight their nuanced and specific nature, and to raise and interrogate a number of ethical and methodological issues that emerge. We view informal conversations as opportunities to add "context" and "authenticity" to data and argue that they can unlock otherwise missed opportunities to expand and enrich data. We also consider the role of ethical boards and ethical guidelines, and the practical effects and consequences these have for researchers when they use informal conversations during their fieldwork.


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Author Biographies

Jon Michael Swain, University College London

Jon Michael SWAIN is a senior lecturer in the Department of Education and Practice at University College London, UCL Institute of Education.

Zachery Daniel Spire, University College London

Zachery Daniel SPIRE is a post doctoral research associate in the Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment Global Centre for Learning Environments at University College London.

How to Cite
Swain, J. M., & Spire, Z. D. (2020). The Role of Informal Conversations in Generating Data, and the Ethical and Methodological Issues. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 21(1).
FQS Debate: Qualitative Research and Ethics