2015 Workshop 3: Trace Interviews

unsplash_526360a842e20_1Abstract: This workshop aims to equip researchers with an understanding of how to benefit from the integration of trace data and visualizations of that data into the interview process. The workshop will review ways in which researchers have integrated trace data into qualitative methods in recent social media research before explaining the process of trace interviewing . Next, participants will be invited to conduct mini-trace interviews based on data collected in advance. This practical application will allow for a rich discussion of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges trace interviewing presents.

Trace interviewing (Dubois & Ford, 2014, in review) is an actor-centric method that employs visualizations of a user’s digital traces during the interview process. Trace interviews are useful for enhancing recall, validating trace data-generated results, addressing data joining problems and responding to ethical concerns that have surfaced in the current era of surveillance and big data. If the challenges of the method are successfully navigated, trace interviewing could allow researchers to respond creatively to new questions about the current, complex communication environment in which multiple social media tools are regularly used.

Trace interviews offer an opportunity to connect “big” and “small” data in ways which improve the researchers’ ability to interpret trace data and provide the creators of that data an opportunity to contribute to its interpretation. This means there are significant implications not only for the practice of qualitative methods but also for the ethics of big data and approaches to social media data analysis.

This workshop is relevant for individuals from various methodological backgrounds who are interested in mixed-methods approaches to social media research and will draw on examples from a wide range of topic areas such as journalism, politics, influencer identification, education and gaming.

Pre-Workshop Prep: 

  • Quick survey for workshop activity
  • Laptop and power cord for


Elizabeth Dubois, University of Oxford, [email protected], @lizdubois
Devin Gaffney, Northeastern University, [email protected], @dgaff
Alex Leavitt, Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, University of
Southern California, [email protected], @alexleavitt