Research Methods STA630
A personal interviewer administering a questionnaire door to door, a telephone interviewer calling from
a central location, an observer counting pedestrians in a shopping mall, and others involved in the
collection of data and the supervision of that process are all fieldworkers. The activities they perform
vary substantially. The supervision of data collection for a mail survey differs from the data collection
in an observation study. Nevertheless there are some basic issues in all kinds of fieldwork. Just for
convenience, in this session we shall focus on the interviewing process conducted by personal
interviewers. However, many of the issues apply to all fieldworkers, no matter what their specific
Who conducts the fieldwork?
Data collection in a sponsored study is rarely carried out by the person who designs the research project.
For a student, depending upon the sample size, data collection is usually done by the student
himself/herself. However, the data collection stage is crucial, because the research project is no better
than the data collected in the field. Therefore, it is important that the research administrator selects
capable people who may be entrusted to collect the data.
There are Field Interviewing Services, who specialize in data gathering. These agencies perform door-
to-door surveys, central location telephone interviewing, and other forms of fieldwork for fee. These
agencies typically employ field supervisors who oversee and train interviewers, edit questionnaires
completed in the field, and confirm that the interviews have been conducted.
Whether the research administrator hires in-house interviewers or selects a field interviewing service, it
is desirable to have fieldworkers meet certain job requirements. Although the job requirements for
different types of surveys vary, normally interviewers should be healthy, outgoing, honest, accurate,
responsible, motivated, and of pleasing appearance well groomed and properly dressed.
An essential part of the interviewing process is establishing rapport with the respondent.
After personnel are selected, they must be trained. The training that the interviewer will receive after
being selected by a company may vary from virtually no training to one week program. Almost always
there will be a briefing session on the particular project.
The objective of training is to ensure that the data collection instrument is administered uniformly by all
fieldworkers. The goal of training session is to ensure that each respondent is provided with common
information. If the data are collected in a uniform manner from all respondents, the training session will
have been success.
More extensive training programs are likely to cover the following topics:
1. How to make initial contact with the respondent and secure the interview?
2. How to ask survey questions?
3. How to probe?
4. How to record responses? How to terminate the interview?
The Role of the Interviewer
Survey research interviewing is a specialized kind of interviewing. As with most interviewing, its goal
is to obtain accurate information from another person.
Research Methods STA630
The survey interview is a social relationship. Like other social relationships, it involves social roles,
norms, and expectations. The interview is a short-term, secondary social interaction between two
strangers with thee explicit purpose of one person's obtaining specific information from the other. The
social roles are those of the interviewer and the interviewee or respondent. Information is obtained in a
structured conversation in which the interviewer asks prearranged questions and records answers, and
the respondent answers.
The role of interviewer is difficult. They obtain cooperation and build rapport, yet remain neutral and
objective. They encroach on respondents' time and privacy for information that may not benefit the
respondents. They try to reduce embarrassment, fear, and suspicion so that respondents feel
comfortable revealing information. They explain the nature of the survey research or give hints about
social roles in an interview. Good interviewers monitor the pace and direction of the social interaction
as well as content of the answers and the behavior of thee respondents.
Survey interviewers are nonjudgmental and do not reveal their opinions, verbally or nonverbally. If the
respondent asks for an interviewer's opinion, he or she politely redirects the respondent and indicate that
such questions are inappropriate.
Stages of an Interview
Making Initial Contact and Securing the Interview
The interview proceeds through stages, beginning with introduction and entry. Interviewers are trained
to make appropriate opening remarks that will convince the person that his or her cooperation is
Asslaam-o-Alaykum, my name is __________________ and I am working for a National Survey
Company. We are conducting a survey concerning "women empowerment." I would like to get a few
of your ideas.
For the initial contact in a telephone interview, the introduction might be:
Asslaam-o-Alaykum, my name is ___________________. I am calling from Department of Social
Research, Virtual University.
By indicating that telephone call is a long distance, interviewers attempt to capitalize on the fact that
most people feel a long distance call is something special, unusual, or important. Giving one's personal
name personalizes thee call.
Personal interviewers may carry a letter of identification that will indicate that the study is bona fide
research project and not a salesman's call. The name of the research agency is used to assure the
respondent that thee caller is trustworthy.
Asking the Questions
The purpose of the interview is, of course, to have the interviewer ask questions and record the
respondent's answers. Training in the art of stating questions can be extremely beneficial, because
interviewer bias can be a source of considerable error in survey research.
There are five major principles for asking questions:
Ask the questions exactly as they are worded in the questionnaire.
Read each question very slowly.
Ask the question in the order in which they are presented in the questionnaire.
Research Methods STA630
Repeat questions that are misunderstood or misinterpreted.
Although interviewers are generally trained in these procedures, when working in thee field many
interviewers do not follow them exactly. Do not take shortcuts when the task becomes monotonous.
Interviewers may shorten questions or rephrase unconsciously when they rely on their memory of the
question rather than reading the question as it is worded.
If the respondents do not understand a question, they will usually ask for some clarification. The
recommended procedure is to repeat the question, or if the respondent does not understand a word, the
interviewer should respond with "just whatever it means to you.
Often the respondents volunteer information relevant to a question that is supposed to be asked at a later
point in the research. In this situation the response should be recorded under the question that deals
specifically with that subject. Then rather than skip the question that was answered out of sequence, the
interviewers should be trained to say something like "We have briefly discussed this, but let me ask you
...." By asking every question, the interviewer can be sure that complete answers are recorded.
Probing means the verbal prompts made by field worker when the respondent must be motivated to
communicate his or her answer or to enlarge on, clarify or explain an answer. Probing may be needed
for two types of situations. First, it is necessary when the respondent must be motivated to enlarge on,
clarify, or explain his or her answer. The interviewer must encourage the respondent to clarify or
expand on answers by providing a stimulus that will not suggest the interviewer's own ideas. The
ability to probe with neutral stimuli is the mark of an experienced interviewer. Second, probing may be
necessary in situations in which he respondent begins to ramble or lose track of the question. In such
cases thee respondent must be led to focus on specific content of the interview and to avoid irrelevant
and unnecessary information. Probing is also needed when the interviewer recognizes an irrelevant or
He interviewer has several possible probing tactics to choose from, depending on the situation:
Repetition of the question. The respondent who remains completely silent may not have
understood the question or may not have decided how to answer it. Mere repetition may
encourage the respondent to answer in such cases. For example, if the question is "What is
there that you do not like about your supervisor?" and the respondent does not answer, the
interviewer may probe: "just to check, is there anything you do not like about your
An expectant pause. If the interviewer believes the respondent has more to say, the "silent
probe," accompanied by an expectant look may motivate the respondent to gather his/her
thoughts and give a complete response.
Repetition of the respondent's reply. As the interviewer records thee response, he or she may
repeat thee respondent's reply verbatim. This may stimulate the respondent to expand on the
Neutral questions or comments. Asking neutral question may indicate the type of information
that the interviewer is seeking. For example, if the interviewer believes that thee respondent's
motives should be clarified, he or she might ask, "Why do you feel that way?" If the
interviewer feels that there is a need to clarify a word or phrase, then he/she might ask, "What
do you mean by ___________?"
Recording the Responses
The rules for recording responses to closed ended questions vary with the specific question. The general
rule, however, is to place a check in the box that correctly reflects the respondent's answer.
Research Methods STA630
The general instructions for recording answers to open-ended response questions is to record the answer
verbatim, a task that is difficult for most people. Some of thee suggestions are:
· Record responses during the interview.
· Use the respondent's own words.
· Do not summarize or paraphrase thee respondent's answer.
· Include everything that pertains to the question objectives.
· Include all your probes.
Terminating the Interview
Fieldworkers should not close the interview before all the information has been secured. The
interviewer whose departure is hasty will not be able to record those spontaneous comments respondents
sometimes offer after all formal questions have been asked. Avoiding hasty departures is also a matter
Fieldworkers should also answer to the best of their ability any questions the respondent has concerning
the nature and purpose of the study. Always leave by observing the local cultural customs. "Don't burn
your bridges." Because thee fieldworker may be required to re-interview the respondent at some future
time, he or she should leave thee respondent with positive feeling about having cooperated in a
worthwhile undertaking. It is extremely important t thank the respondent for his or her cooperation.
The interviewer then goes to a quite and private place to edit the questionnaire and record other details
such as the date, time, and place of interview; a thumbnail sketch of the respondent and interview
situation, the respondent's attitude; and any unusual circumstances. The interviewer also records
personal feelings and anything that was suspected.
Principles of Interviewing
Have integrity and be honest. This is thee cornerstone of all professional inquiry, regardless of its
Have patience and tact. Interviewers ask for information from people they do not know. Thus all the
rules of human relations that apply to inquiry situations patience, tact, courtesy apply "in spades" to
Have attention to accuracy and detail. Among the greatest interviewing "sins" are inaccuracy and
superficiality, for the professional analyst can misunderstand, and in turn mislead, a client. Do not
record thee answer unless you fully understand it yourself. Probe for clarification and detailed full
Exhibit a real interest in the inquiry at hand, but keep your opinions to yourself. Impartiality is
Be a good listener. Some interviewers talk too much, wasting time when respondents could be
supplying more pertinent facts or opinions on the topic.
Keep the inquiry and respondents' responses confidential. Do not discuss the studies you are doing with
relatives, friends, or associates. Never quote one respondent's opinion to another.
Respect others' rights. Survey research depends on the goodwill of others to provide information.
There should be no coercion. Impress on prospective respondents that their cooperation is important
Research Methods STA630
Information obtained during interview should be as free as possible of bias.
Bias could be introduced by the interviewer, interviewee, or the situation. Interviewer bias falls
into six categories:
Interviewer could bias the data if proper rapport is not established Errors by the respondent
forgetting, embarrassment, misunderstanding, or lying because of the presence of others.
Unintentional errors or interviewer sloppiness contacting the wrong person, misreading a
question, omitting questions, reading questions in the wrong order, recording wrong answer, or
misunderstanding the respondent.
Intentional subversion by the interviewer purposeful alteration of answers, omission or
rewording of questions, or choice of an alternative respondent.
Influence due to the interviewer's expectations about a respondent's appearance, living
situation, or other answers.
Failure of an interviewer to probe or to probe properly.
Influence on the answers due to the interviewer's appearance, tone, attitude, reactions to
answers, or comments made outside of the interview schedule.
· Errors made by the respondent
1. Interviewees can bias the data when they do not come out with their true opinion but provide
information that they think what the interviewer expects of them or would like to hear.
2. They do not understand the question, they may feel difficult or hesitant to clarify.
3. Some interviewees may be turned off because of the personal liking, or the dress of the
interviewer, or the manner in which questions are put. So they may not provide truthful
4. Some may provide socially undesirable answers.
· Situational biases in terms of:
1. Non-participants Unwillingness or inability to participate. Bias the sample.
2. Trust levels and rapport established by different interviewers. Elicit answers of different degrees
3. The physical setting of the interview. Respondent may not feel comfortable to be interviewed at
Some Tips for Interviewing
Know the culture of the people in advance.
Appearance wear acceptable dress.
Pleasantness and flexibility.
Carry the letter of authority.
Establish credibility and rapport. Motivating individuals to respond.
Familiarity with the questionnaire.
Following the question wording/ question order
Recording responses exactly.
Probing for responses.
Closing the interview. No false promises. Also don't burn your bridges.
Edit the questionnaire in the first available opportunity.
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