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9.2: Interview Survey

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    Interviews are a more personalized form of data collection method than questionnaires, and are conducted by trained interviewers using the same research protocol as questionnaire surveys (i.e., a standardized set of questions). However, unlike a questionnaire, the interview script may contain special instructions for the interviewer that is not seen by respondents, and may include space for the interviewer to record personal observations and comments. In addition, unlike mail surveys, the interviewer has the opportunity to clarify any issues raised by the respondent or ask probing or follow-up questions. However, interviews are timeconsuming and resource-intensive. Special interviewing skills are needed on part of the interviewer. The interviewer is also considered to be part of the measurement instrument, and must proactively strive not to artificially bias the observed responses.

    The most typical form of interview is personal or face-to-face interview, where the interviewer works directly with the respondent to ask questions and record their responses. Personal interviews may be conducted at the respondent’s home or office location. This approach may even be favored by some respondents, while others may feel uncomfortable in allowing a stranger in their homes. However, skilled interviewers can persuade respondents to cooperate, dramatically improving response rates.

    A variation of the personal interview is a group interview, also called focus group. In this technique, a small group of respondents (usually 6-10 respondents) are interviewed together in a common location. The interviewer is essentially a facilitator whose job is to lead the discussion, and ensure that every person has an opportunity to respond. Focus groups allow deeper examination of complex issues than other forms of survey research, because when people hear others talk, it often triggers responses or ideas that they did not think about before. However, focus group discussion may be dominated by a dominant personality, and some individuals may be reluctant to voice their opinions in front of their peers or superiors, especially while dealing with a sensitive issue such as employee underperformance or office politics. Because of their small sample size, focus groups are usually used for exploratory research rather than descriptive or explanatory research.

    A third type of interview survey is telephone interviews. In this technique, interviewers contact potential respondents over the phone, typically based on a random selection of people from a telephone directory, to ask a standard set of survey questions. A more recent and technologically advanced approach is computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI), increasing being used by academic, government, and commercial survey researchers, where the interviewer is a telephone operator, who is guided through the interview process by a computer program displaying instructions and questions to be asked on a computer screen. The system also selects respondents randomly using a random digit dialing technique, and records responses using voice capture technology. Once respondents are on the phone, higher response rates can be obtained. This technique is not ideal for rural areas where telephone density is low, and also cannot be used for communicating non-audio information such as graphics or product demonstrations.

    Role of interviewer

    The interviewer has a complex and multi-faceted role in the interview process, which includes the following tasks:

    • Prepare for the interview: Since the interviewer is in the forefront of the data collection effort, the quality of data collected depends heavily on how well the interviewer is trained to do the job. The interviewer must be trained in the interview process and the survey method, and also be familiar with the purpose of the study, how responses will be stored and used, and sources of interviewer bias. He/she should also rehearse and time the interview prior to the formal study.
    • Locate and enlist the cooperation of respondents: Particularly in personal, in-home surveys, the interviewer must locate specific addresses, and work around respondents’ schedule sometimes at undesirable times such as during weekends. They should also be like a salesperson, selling the idea of participating in the study.
    • Motivate respondents: Respondents often feed off the motivation of the interviewer. If the interviewer is disinterested or inattentive, respondents won’t be motivated to provide useful or informative responses either. The interviewer must demonstrate enthusiasm about the study, communicate the importance of the research to respondents, and be attentive to respondents’ needs throughout the interview.
    • Clarify any confusion or concerns: Interviewers must be able to think on their feet and address unanticipated concerns or objections raised by respondents to the respondents’ satisfaction. Additionally, they should ask probing questions as necessary even if such questions are not in the script.
    • Observe quality of response: The interviewer is in the best position to judge the quality of information collected, and may supplement responses obtained using personal observations of gestures or body language as appropriate.

    This page titled 9.2: Interview Survey is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Anol Bhattacherjee (Global Text Project) .