Orientation Observation In-depth interviews Document analysis and semiology Conversation and discourse analysis Secondary Data Surveys Experiments Ethics Research outcomes



Social Research Glossary

About Researching the Real World



© Lee Harvey 2012–2019

Page updated 25 January, 2019

Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012–2019, Researching the Real World, available at
All rights belong to author.


A Guide to Methodology

6. Conversation and discourse analysis

6.1 Introduction to discourse analysis
6.2 Conversation analysis

6.2.1 Introduction
6.2.2 Focus and presumptions of conversation analysis
6.2.3 Elements of conversation analysis
6.2.4 Why undertake close analysis of conversational sequences?
6.2.5 Methods of conversation analysis
6.2.6 Examples of how conversation analysis has been used
6.2.7 Analysing power relations

6.3 Genre analysis
6.4 Pragmatics
6.5 Discursive psychology
6.6 Interactional sociolinguistics
6.7 Ethnography of communication/speaking
6.8 Narrative analysis
6.9 Critical discourse analysis
6.10 Summary and conclusion

6.2 Conversation analysis

6.2.4 Why undertake close analysis of conversational sequences?

Conversational analysts argue that conversations are orderly processes for participating members (Schegloff & Sacks, 1973; Sacks, 1984). (Note: participants are often referred to as members by conversational analysts, reflecting ethnomethodological usage.) This orderliness is seen as the product of the systematic deployment of interactional 'devices' or 'systems' (such as those specified in CASE STUDY: Examples of conversation analysis patterns). This they claim aids an understanding of interaction in specific circumstances. Paul ten Have (undated) sums up this sequential analysis of conversation analysis as follows:

Conversation Analysis is a disciplined way of studying the local organization of interactional episodes, its unique methodological practice has enabled its practitioners to produce a mass of insights into the detailed procedural foundations of everyday life. It has developed some very practical solutions to some rather thorny methodological problems. As such it is methodologically 'impure', but it works.

One might suppose that having identified organisational structures that this does not need to be done again. However, Heritage (1998, p. 168) is clear that:

Overall structural organisation, in short, is not a framework—fixed once and for all—to fit data into. Rather it is something that we're looking for and looking at to the extent that the parties orient to it in organising their talk.

What may not be so clear to the student of conversation analysis is what redoing this for a particular conversation tells us. If, at this stage, you are thinking this is a lot of effort to describe a conversation and are unsure how it helps you interpret or explain the social world, you are not alone. However, this probably reflects a desire on your part to develop a (latent) generalisable theoretical understanding of the social world rather than a concern with close analysis of specific interactive engagements.

Conversation analysis studies tend to have little theory, no literature review from which hypotheses are generated, no methodology section and little or no context. The exclusive focus on an analysis of empirical conversation fragments can be confusing for the reader unused to this style of sociological reporting.


Next 6.2.5 Methods of conversational analysis