Sequencing in Conversational Openings1


  • 1

    The research on which the present discussion is based was supported in part by the Advanced Research Projects Agency, Department of Defense, through the Air Force Office of Scientific Research under Contract number AF 49 (638)–1761. I want to acknowledge, as well, the assistance of the Bureau of Applied Social Research, Columbia University, and its director, Allen Barton. For much of the general approach taken here I am indebted to Harold Garfinkel and Harvey Sacks, and for specific suggestions, doubts, critical remarks, and suggestive additions I am grateful to Erving Goffman, Alan Blum, Michael Moerman, and especially to David Sudnow and Harvey Sacks. Responsibility is, of course, entirely mine.

  • This discussion is a shortened and modified version of chapters two and three of the author's Ph.D. dissertation (Schegloff 1967). It is based on the analysis of tape-recorded phone calls to and from the complaint desk of a police department in a middle-sized Midwestern city. References to the “data” in the text should be understood as references to this corpus of materials. Names have been changed to preserve anonymity; numbers preceding citations of data identify calls within the corpus. I wish to thank the Disaster Research Center, Department of Sociology, The Ohio State University, for the use of this recorded material, which was obtained in connection with studies of organzational functioning under stress, especially disaster conditions. The views expressed and the interpretations of the data, of course, are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Center.


An attempt is made to ascertain rules for the sequencing of a limited part of natural conversation and to determine some properties and empirical consequences of the operation of those rules. Two formulations of conversational openings are suggested and the properties “nonterminality” and “conditional relevance” are developed to explicate the operation of one of them and to suggest some of its interactional consequences. Some discussion is offered of the fit between the sequencing structure and the tasks of conversational openings.