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Listening to People

A Practical Guide to Interviewing, Participant Observation, Data Analysis, and Writing It All Up

Listening to People

A Practical Guide to Interviewing, Participant Observation, Data Analysis, and Writing It All Up

A down-to-earth, practical guide for interview and participant observation and analysis.

In-depth interviews and close observation are essential to the work of social scientists, but inserting one’s researcher-self into the lives of others can be daunting, especially early on.  Esteemed sociologist Annette Lareau is here to help. Lareau’s clear, insightful, and personal guide is not your average methods text. It promises to reduce researcher anxiety while illuminating the best methods for first-rate research practice.
As the title of this book suggests, Lareau considers listening to be the core element of interviewing and observation. A researcher must listen to people as she collects data, listen to feedback as she describes what she is learning, listen to the findings of others as they delve into the existing literature on topics, and listen to herself in order to sift and prioritize some aspects of the study over others. By listening in these different ways, researchers will discover connections, reconsider assumptions, catch mistakes, develop and assess new ideas, weigh priorities, ponder new directions, and undertake numerous adjustments—all of which will make their contributions clearer and more valuable.
Accessibly written and full of practical, easy-to-follow guidance, this book will help both novice and experienced researchers to do their very best work. Qualitative research is an inherently uncertain project, but with Lareau’s help, you can alleviate anxiety and focus on success.


"This is the book we've all been waiting for: a practical, accessible, and deeply informed handbook to the nuts and bolts of how to do interviews and participant observation. A masterful guide that is perfect for teaching. Even the most seasoned researcher will appreciate Lareau's many insights and examples as they undertake their next research project."

Shamus Khan, Professor of Sociology and American Studies, Princeton University

“Annette Lareau has translated her expert research practice into an accessible and awesomely instructive book that covers interviewing and field work from conception to publication. Listening to People takes the mystery out of the methods and reduces the anxiety of interjecting ourselves into other people’s lives. This book will, no doubt, be the standard text in training the next generation of writers, journalists, and researchers who listen for a living.”

Mary Pattillo, author of Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril Among the Black Middle Class

"Annette Lareau has written a wonderfully clear, truly insightful, and deeply personal guide to producing high-quality qualitative research.  Organized around tools of “listening” and “thinking as you go,” she brings to light often unstated methods of first-rate research practice."

Margaret Eisenhart, Distinguished Professor Emerita, University of Colorado Boulder

"This is not only the best general guide to ethnographic research that I’ve seen (in 40 years of reading them) but also really a remarkable intellectual achievement as a seemingly easily written product of, I’m sure, years of exhaustive work. It appears to be a methods book, not a substantive contribution to sociological knowledge, but, because it is essentially a social psychology of the process of becoming an ethnographer, it’s both."

Jack Katz, Research Professor of Sociology, UCLA

"Listening to People is the book I have been searching for since I was a graduate student. It is the book everyone who hopes to produce high-quality qualitative research needs to read. Annette Lareau has assembled a veritable treasure trove of practical advice for the qualitative researcher based on her more than 40 years of experience in the field. The book is an honest and painstakingly detailed guide to conducting qualitative research from start (project inception) to finish (analysis, writing, and publication). It moves beyond the general “how to” guidance of other books to address all the minutia and peculiar realities of qualitative research. Listening to People will save future generations of qualitative researchers from the lessons that so many of us had to learn the hard way and from which some of us are still trying to recover." 

Karolyn Tyson, Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Professor, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

"This book offers an unusually candid and compassionate lens into the process of qualitative research. Lareau provides concrete examples at every step. Not only interview questions, probes and field-notes, but elevator speeches, introductory emails, article introductions, coding schemes, manuscript reviews, and so on.  She demystifies each stage of the research process.  With authority, experience, and deep humility, Lareau makes a wonderful guide. Listening to People will appeal to scholars at all levels."

Amy Steinbugler, Associate Professor of Sociology, Dickinson College

Table of Contents

1: Introduction: The Emergent Nature of the Research Process
2: Before You Begin: Dreaming and Thinking
3: Preparing: The Early Steps in a Study
4: Learning to Interview: What to Do before and after the Interview
5: How to Conduct a Good Interview: Dig Deep
6: Learning to Do Participant Observation: A Practical Guide
7: Writing High-Quality Field Notes: Details Matter
8: Data Analysis: Thinking as you Go
9: Writing: Becoming Clearer about Your Contribution
10: Conclusion: Why Interviews and Participant Observation Research Are Valuable
Final Words
Appendix to Chapter 3: Navigating the Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects: Or, How to Manage the IRB Process

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