Anne Vo on Using Conversation Analysis in Research & Evaluation

Hi, my name is Anne Vo and I am a doctoral student in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). I have been using conversation analysis (CA) to study how program evaluation is taught in informal settings. CA is a research method and tool that was developed during the 1960’s and 1970’s in the field of sociology for the purposes of examining “talk-in-interaction” – the way in which interactions are organized through conversation. It is also used broadly by scholars in disciplines such as anthropology and linguistics. But, evaluators who find that they need to answer questions about the nature and quality of interaction and social relationships in their evaluations may also find CA useful. So, what you will find below are some things to consider while doing CA, a link to an online module for those who may be interested in learning more about what “doing CA” entails, and some references for further exploration.

As with every research and evaluation method, CA has its advantages and disadvantages. In this case, they are quite similar to what we normally encounter when using observational or ethnographic methods. A few methodological considerations, strengths, weaknesses, and pitfalls to consider appear below.

Rad Resource: The following link will take you to an online training module that will walk you through the CA transcription process. This module was created by one of the method’s developers, Dr. Emanuel Schegloff.

Rad Resources: These provide a great introduction to CA:

  • Sacks, H., Schegloff, E.A., & Jefferson, G. (1974). A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation. Language, 50(4): 696-735.

And, the following books are useful references for those who have long-term interest in CA:

  • Ochs, E., Schegloff, E.A. & Thompson, S.A. (Eds.). (1996). Interaction and grammar. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
  • Schegloff, E.A. (2007). Sequence organization in interaction: A primer in conversation analysis: Volume 1. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Hot Tip: Methodological Considerations.

  • Large social constructs that are often studied using CA include human interaction, social relationships, and context.
  • In CA, these social constructs are indexed by units of analyses not limited to: turn taking, turn constructional units, and sequence organization.
  • “Doing CA” involves meticulous transcription of audio or video recordings using CA notation. Analysis involves concurrent use of the audio/video data with the transcript, but the recordings remain the primary data sources.


  • Because CA is inherently a fine-grained tool, one of its strengths is its precision, which can be used to identify nuances that might have otherwise been overlooked.
  • It also allows analysis to occur specifically at the conversational level, which is not generally afforded by other methods.

Limitations of the method:

  • CA transcription is a time consuming and costly activity.
  • And, it requires specialized training in CA methods if it is going to be done well.


  • The analytic process is sensitive to misinterpretation and over-interpretation so member checking becomes doubly crucial here.
  • Likewise, the analyst should be wary of the tendency to essentialize the phenomena that they are observing; rather, she or he should always triangulate these initial patterns before arriving at conclusions.

This contribution is from the aea365 Daily Tips blog, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to

3 thoughts on “Anne Vo on Using Conversation Analysis in Research & Evaluation”

  1. Thank you for the tips. They were very helpful in assessing if I can use this method in my research and the links came in handy! Good luck in your endeavours!

  2. Sola, thank you for your post. I would be happy to share some materials with you. For example, if the issue is concerning access to journal articles, I can send you a few that I have. Perhaps you could send me your e-mail address —

    Best wishes,

  3. Your contribution is a gentle introduction to the topic but nonetheless a strong all rounded summary of CA. I like this and will use it to guide my understanding of CA as a method of choice in studying human interaction mediated by text in the course of collaborative problem solving to arrive at shared meaning. I am a graduate (Masters)student in information science. I would appreciate if you have any e-material to share on this.

    From Africa

Leave a Reply to Ina Cancel Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.