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Step 5: Ask Questions

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Pose research questions

Now, we indicated (see Conversation Analysis) earlier that, whilst CA resists premature theorizing, the interplay between repeated listening to audio recordings and examination of transcriptions leads to the generation of research questions. So, having identified that Jim appears to be only taking minimal turns at talk, and considering the definition of conversation that we are working with, this may lead us to ask such questions as:

  1. Who speaks most?
  2. What is the function of Jim’s minimal turns in this conversation?
  3. Does one interlocutor adopt a predominantly respondent role?

Of course, your own investigation of the data may lead you to pose different questions to those listed above. You may have seen something in the extract, for example, that causes you to query the power relationships (e.g. Does this conversation actually reflect symmetry of status, with both interlocutors having, or claiming, equal rights to speak?). Posing different questions is perhaps inevitable, as each analyst comes to the task with a different set of assumptions and different interests with respect to everyday talk. Whilst the CA procedure encourages an unmotivated approach, you will likely have realized how difficult it is to put all assumptions to one side. For example, the fact that you can declare that this particular conversational extract does not display a recursive IRF exchange structure is based on your pre-existing knowledge of this structure and how it features strongly in much classroom discourse. None of us are totally naïve when it comes to the process of analysis. It is important, therefore, to be self-reflective and to try and maintain an awareness of how one’s own background, understandings, experiences, and so on, have influenced – and continue to influence – the focus of investigation and analysis.

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