Reflection: Fieldwork and Investigative Writing

Fieldworking and investigative writing was a new experience for me. Although I had never written anything like this, I thought my previous experience in writing news articles for a student newspaper (mainly covering school or community events) would help with this form of writing. Specifically, I thought my previous experience in interviewing strangers for articles might make it slightly easier for me to walk up and question random people — but this wasn’t the case.

The end of a career panel on jobs in the field of Human Resources in the Blue & Gold Room of the CareerCenter.

The end of a career panel where attendees get to talk with the guest speakers, as well as each other.

It wasn’t just the common experience of finding people unwilling to talk on record (a regular bump in these forums that will hold public quotes and sources accountable for any statement). But what I hadn’t realized was that I was simply rusty. It had been more than two years since I had officially interviewed someone to be used as a source and most of my recent writing has been limited to academic essays, with audiences enclosed to the limited circle of professors, graduate student instructors (GSIs), and classmates. In addition the time-heavy requirements of my classes and assignments had made me overly used to solitude. So, when I wanted or tried to talk to new people for the purpose of having them as a source, I would become hesitant and fearful of the interaction — a reaction I thought I had conquered years ago. But it came back. As I approached potential sources, I stuttered and and my mind blanked. It was as if I had lost the interviewing skills I previously had.

But, strangely enough, my choice to explore the job searching scene actually helped in re-overcoming these hesitations and fears. Many of the job-related events I attended usually made time to network with guest speakers and other attendees. The networking segments toward the end of the events were beneficial to me in both my personal job search and my fieldwork because they allowed me to practice talking and interviewing random strangers again. These career networking events were perfect for this since their whole point is to get people talking and connecting with one another  — regardless of whether or not it ended up in my final, written fieldwork essay or would even lead to an actual job.

In hindsight, I also realize that the settings of my fieldwork topic was very different from doing fieldwork on another environment–such as a random plaza, a cafe, or a yoga studio–where people are busy studying or exercising and an unknown greeter is taken as a disruption or deemed with ulterior motives. At least at these career events, people want to meet people and there are tables and flyers to make their interests, goals, and values obvious — none of which applies to another setting (like a library).

Gateway to the CareerCenter.

The CareerCenter.

That’s not to say it made talking to job recruiters any easier. Although career fairs and panels are held for the purposes of meeting and talking to people, the setting has different hindrances: there’s competition between other attendees for the time and attention of recruiters, customs with meeting-and-greeting in a professional setting, and more pressure to stand out. To approach someone at a cafe or a public plaza doesn’t require you to stand out or be prepared to answer questions that will determine your value and economic prospects. But approaching a representative at career events require you to stand out (since your competing with other people for the representatives’ time), have a resume and work samples ready-in-hand, and be ready to answer questions about your experience. These exchanges at job fairs could, at times, be sudden, random mini-interviews — without the hassle for employers of screening a person, looking at their documents, and scheduling an individual meeting.

In addition, fieldworking is very different from traditional academic essays and other forms of writing since it focuses less on obtaining information from previous writers and adding to their dialogue or even close reading a text. Instead, it places more emphasis on the individual — since the writer needs to go into an area to observe and experience the world for themselves. This is both very freeing and stressful because the writer is no longer tied down to established ideas yet, at the same time, needs to work harder to make observations about the scene or talk to participants within the culture. For me, fieldworking has been a very hands-on and experiential form of writing — and, ultimately, more useful and fulfilling.


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