First-Year Writing: Interview-Based Qualitative Research Report

Molly Westerman, St. Olaf College
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In this introductory-level qualitative research report assignment, students 1) collaboratively create a research topic, guiding question, flexible interview script, and sampling methodology; 2) gather data through one 30-minute and one 60-minute qualitative interview per student, transcribe that data, and share it with their classmates (while protecting subjects' anonymity), and 3) individually write up two versions of a research report, the second of which is longer and incorporates secondary sources.

Learning Goals

Learning Goals:
  • Articulating a clear thesis or central claim
  • Using effective research strategies to locate appropriate sources
  • Evaluating and selecting compelling qualitative evidence
  • Recognizing assumptions and using sound logic
  • Writing effectively
  • Speaking effectively

Context for Use

This activity was designed for use in an undergraduate first-year writing course capped at 18 students, in which students learned some of the conventions of humanities and social sciences writing and research. The course and my version of the assignment were themed around women's bodies in contemporary US culture, but the assignment's skeleton would work well with many, many topics. It assumes no prior knowledge or skills.

Description and Teaching Materials

This first-year writing qualitative research report assignment requires the following uploaded materials: 1) the assignment, 2) an appropriate consent form, and 3) a course outline that accommodates the course-long sequence while weaving in other projects along the way.

Teaching Notes and Tips

I place on reserve--and require students to read and discuss--excerpts from books on qualitative research interviews as a methodology. (See the uploaded syllabus for specific examples.) This assignment would not work without a careful introduction to this unfamiliar methodology, through readings and/or lectures. This is a difficult assignment that works extremely well provided that it's broken into small, manageable steps: scaffolding is vital here. In the end, students are empowered and surprised by their own ability to create and express genuinely new knowledge.


I grade and offer feedback on this assignment using a rubric, which we also employ during our two peer workshops of the report. Students' success varied fairly widely, but almost all students were able to make more convincing and genuinely interpretive arguments in this assignment--drawing upon their own newly-gathered data--than in our more conventional composition projects. Furthermore, student performance typically improved between the first/shorter and second/longer reports, despite some students' anxieties over writing (in many cases) their longest paper to date.

Students also reflected on the assignment in posts on our course blog. Their reflections (and in some cases self-evaluations) were insightful and nuanced, reflecting a new awareness of disciplinary conventions and often a new confidence in their own speaking and writing abilities.

References and Resources