Interview summaries provide a concise description of information under a series of headings, usually including the key points of what was said, as well as any non-verbal observations and reflections by those present on the quality and context of the interview. Whether drafted just after getting back to the office, or several days or even weeks after an interview (using the audio recording or interview transcription) summaries were highlighted by all of us in the workshop as helpful in: 1) keeping track of learning in a timely manner; 2) incorporating all team members observations and views into the data; 3) helping share and compare what’s being learned across participants and with other team members; and 4) identifying gaps and new questions for subsequent interviews.


In our REACH case study that explores resilience, empowerment and advocacy of women and children in an observational study in Kenya, we have come to rely heavily on our summaries as a core element in our analysis. We have been conducting up to three interviews in each of 20 households with families of children who had been admitted in the local hospital. The aim is to understand the illness and treatment seeking from their perspective, and identifying potential points of intervention to test in future studies. We are keen to ensure that in addition to a coding process where information is deliberately broken down into small segments, we keep all of a household’s story or narrative together, and as a whole. Our summary writing process is a thorough, exciting and grueling one (due to the intensity of the process). Here we share what we do:

Starting with interview notes and a debrief. Most interviews are conducted in pairs by an interviewer and a note-taker. This is followed by a debrief after each interview - a process that also helps us share experiences, raise, discuss and in some cases, seek to resolve the very complex ethical dilemmas faced in our interviews (a story for another day!).


A first draft summary. The note taker draws on his/her notes, the debrief and from voice file to provide an initial summary under pre-agreed headings, and any new ones coming up. We collect a narrative from parents/carers: an account of the child’s health from birth through to the illness that led to admission and chronologically the actions taken leading up to admission, and any other post discharge. Information on a topic can be scattered amongst a series of questions and probes and sometimes introduced by the interviewee as a last thought. This way, the note-taker’s summary begins to bring together information in a comprehensible way and well flowing piece under specific themes.

From a first draft of a summary to a strong record. The draft (on paper or usually typed up after the debrief) is checked and added to by the other person present in the interview who then circulates to the rest of the team for ideas and reflections. This enables us to interact with the data early to improve our data collection tool and improve our phrasing and probing. It also allows us to leverage the different expertise and experience in the team and develop synergy and creativity in our work. It also gives a clear picture to the rest of the team who were not present during the interview.


Merging summaries from one household: We follow the same process for each visit to a household. What we have found is that by the second or third visit to households, once we have had a chance to build a rapport with participants, they became more open offering richer information on the topics we had already covered in our first interview. This, together with an interest to keep together emerging information across the visits regarding the child’s health trajectory and/or any changes in the household that may have had an influence on the child’s health, leads us to draw on all the individual summaries per household and develop an overall combined and very detailed household summary and narrative. This gives us a rich picture in a relatively brief document of the whole household’s trajectory, and facilitates comparison of different households’ stories to supplement coded data.
The process started with an aim of documenting learning quickly to inform subsequent interviews but has transitioned into an important narrative analysis method for our whole project. This being said however, transcripts remain very important as they give the participants’ own voices, comprehensive information, capturing verbal and nonverbal content and can be counterchecked word-for-word from the audio files. Therefore, for our study the interview summaries as described are additional to, and not instead of, coding of transcriptions.

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  • ishratjabeen02 Ishrat Jabeen 24 Jul 2019

    Very helpful article. It has given a clear understanding on the steps of summary with example.

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