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CPGC Student Research Funding and IRB 2019-2020

Finding your Interlocutors

If you're lucky, you might have a ready-made group of people willing to talk to you. This is rarely the case! Field researchers often have to stretch their interpersonal comfort levels to meet people. Here are some suggestions:

  • Think about local community organizations related to your topic. Could you talk to someone there about providing an introduction?
  • Are you doing research in a small community? Consider typical community meeting spaces such as markets, churches, and parks.
  • Are you doing research on the Internet? Ask relevant forum admins if you can post. Also think about harnessing Facebook and other social media platforms and asking people to reblog and share.
  • Is the group you hope to work with difficult to access? You may need to ask permission from somebody in a leadership position.
  • Don't forget to network. Every time you have a positive interaction, ask the person if they would be willing to introduce you to somebody else.


There is no such thing as a perfect fieldwork experience! Expectations and reality don't always match up, technology may fail, a participant may decide they'd rather not be recorded, you might get lost and show up late, and so on. Don't despair: it's always a learning experience and these things happen to the most experienced field researcher. Here are some common challenges you may want to prepare for:

  • You may be flirted with, especially if you are female-bodied. This can be awkward if every interaction turns into a request for a date when you'd really prefer to talk about your work. There's no magic answer for what to do: you might laugh it off, you might decide to talk to someone else, you might make up a spouse, or you might find that a certain level of "safe" flirting is conducive to rapport. Use your best judgment and think carefully about your boundaries. Listen to your instincts if you feel unsafe.
  • You may be lied to, either because someone doesn't want you asking questions, or because someone thinks it's funny, or even because someone really wants you to succeed and gives you the answers they think you want. That's okay--it's useful information, in its own way. Hopefully, you'll talk to enough people that you can easily pick out data that doesn't match.
  • You may be asked for money or other resources. Depending on your academic department and approved fieldwork plan, you may decide to pay informants a small stipend for their assistance--this is common in psychology but rare in anthropology. If this is not in your plan or your budget, though, this could be awkward if it comes up. I often offer something small and symbolic as a thanks--whether it's treating the person to a coffee for the interview or offering to email them any photos I took. Be careful though; there's a line between respectful compensation and bribery.
  • Your technology may (will probably at some point) fail. ALWAYS have backup batteries and a plan B.

Tools & Technology

You may decide to use some form of technology to document interviews, events, locations, and your thoughts. Digital audio recorders, video cameras, still image cameras, microphones, and laptops are all potentially useful devices. If you decide to simply use your smart phone, I would still recommend using an external microphone (otherwise your interviews may not be easy to hear and will certainly not be of sufficient quality for use in projects such as websites or documentaries). The following websites contain guidelines for using technology in the field, as well as processing and disseminating your digital data.

The National Association of Student Anthropologists has supplied this list of field equipment with the student budget in mind.

Digital Omnium, created by Doug Boyd, offers reviews of fieldwork technology as well as very good advice about taking oral histories.

Doug Boyd also provides a set of questions to help you choose recorders and microphones.

You might also consider using a digital tool like Evernote to help you store and organize your fieldnotes, as described by David Keyes.