The goal of eliciting linguistic behavior from a speaker – called informant1 – of the target language is to obtain linguistic data of a certain kind. Here the subdivision of the ways of generating linguistic data applies: The informant may be asked to produce utterances or to judge on them. In order to guide the informant to produce data of the desired kind, the linguist may confront him with linguistic or non-linguistic stimuli.

Like any linguistic work, informant work is work on an object language conducted in some metalanguage. Methods of informant work differ essentially according to whether the metalanguage used by investigator and informant is or is not the same as the object language. In the former case, much informant work will ask for informants' judgements. In the latter, much informant work will be elicitation proper; i.e. its target will be to get the informant to produce, rather than judge on, linguistic data.

Whenever the investigator does not speak the object language, he will conduct informant work in a language that he shares with the informant, which may be the regional lingua franca. In such a situation, the most common linguistic stimuli are example sentences of the lingua franca to be translated into the informant's language. This method is discussed elsewhere.

The danger of interference from the lingua franca is minimized in informant work with non-linguistic stimuli. Here the informant may be asked to describe certain static or dynamic scenes (e.g. on pictures or movies) presented to him. A related method is to ask a set of interlocutors to solve a well-defined communication problem, e.g. for one of them to give appropriate route-directions to the other.

If one favors introspection as a method, one may want to say that if the linguist is a speaker of the object language, then he may as well serve as an informant. That would be a particularly unreliable informant. Moreover, one informant is insufficient, since he only represents one idiolect. In comparison with introspection, informant work has therefore also been called ‘multispection’.