Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A(Socio, Phil) B.Sc. M. Ed, Ph.D
Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V.(P.G) College, Roorkee, India
Interviewers now are increasingly seen as active participants in interactions with respondents, and interviews are seen as negotiated accomplishments of both interviewers and respondents that are shaped by the contexts and situations in which they take place. In other words, researchers are not visible, neutral entities; rather, they are part of the interactions they seek to study and influence those interactions. The interviewer’s role is complex and multifaceted. It includes the following tasks:
- Clarifying any confusion/concerns – Interviewers have to be able to think on their feet. Interviewee may raise objections or concerns that were not anticipated. The interviewer has to be able to respond candidly and informatively.
- Conducting a good interview – The interviewer has to conduct a good interview. Every interview has a life of its own. Some respondents are motivated and attentive, others are distracted or disinterested. The interviewer also has good or bad days. Assuring a consistently high-quality interview is a challenge that requires constant effort.
- Identifying and gaining cooperation of Interviewee – The interviewer has to find the respondent. In door-to-door surveys, this means being able to locate specific addresses. Often, the interviewer has to work at the least desirable times as that’s when respondents are most readily available.
- Motivating Interviewee – The interviewer has to be motivated and has to be able to communicate that motivation to the respondent. Often, this means that the interviewer has to be convinced of the importance of the research
- Observing the quality of responses – Whether the interview is personal or over the phone, the interviewer is in the best position to judge the quality of the information that is being received. Even a verbatim transcript will not adequately convey how seriously the respondent took the task, or any gestures or body language that was evident.
Training the Interviewers
One of the most important aspects of any interview study is the training of the interviewers themselves. In many ways the interviewers end being the measures, and the quality of the results is totally in their hands. Even in small studies involving only a single researcher-interviewer, it is important to organize in detail and rehearse the interviewing process before beginning the formal study.
Following major consideration should be addressed for interviewer training:
- Building the Interviewer’s Kit – It’s important that interviewers have all of the materials they need to do a professional job. Usually, one will want to assemble an interviewer kit that can be easily carried and includes all of the important materials such as: A “professional-looking” 3-ring notebook (this might even have the logo of the company or organization conducting the interviews) maps sufficient copies of the survey instrument official identification (preferable a picture ID) a cover letter from the Principal Investigator or Sponsor a phone number the respondent can call to verify the interviewer’s authenticity.
- Communicating the sponsor of research – Interviewers need to know who they are working for. They — and their respondents — have a right to know not just what agency or company is conducting the research, but also, how the research is paid for.
- Describing the entire study – Interviewers need to know more than simply how to conduct the interview itself. They should learn about the background for the study, previous work that has been done, and why the study is important.
- Educating the sampling logic and process – Naive interviewers may not understand why sampling is so important. They may wonder why one goes through all the difficulties of selecting the sample so carefully. They should be explained that sampling is the basis for the conclusions that will be reached and for the degree to which the study will be useful.
- Explaining interviewer bias – Interviewers need to know the many ways that they can inadvertently bias the results. And, they need to understand why it is important that they not bias the study. This is especially a problem when you are investigating political or moral issues on which people have strongly held convictions. While the interviewer may think they are doing well for society by slanting results in favor of what they believe, they need to recognize that doing so could jeopardize the entire study in the eyes of others.
- Explaining respondent selection procedures, including reading maps – It’s astonishing how many adults don’t know how to follow directions on a map. In personal interviews, the interviewer may need to locate respondents who are spread over a wide geographic area. And, they often have to navigate by night (respondents tend to be most available in evening hours) in neighborhoods they’re not familiar with. Teaching basic map reading skills and confirming that the interviewers can follow maps is essential.
- Explaining scheduling – The interviewers have to understand the demands being made on their schedules and why these are important to the study. In some studies it will be imperative to conduct the entire set of interviews within a certain time period. In most studies, it’s important to have the interviewers available when it’s convenient for the respondents, not necessarily the interviewer.
- Explaining supervision – In most interview studies, the interviewers will work under the direction of a supervisor. In some contexts, the supervisor may be a faculty advisor; In order to assure the quality of the responses, the supervisor may have to observe a subsample of interviews, listen in on phone interviews, or conduct follow-up assessments of interviews with the respondents. This can be very threatening to the interviewers. One needs to develop an atmosphere where everyone on the research team — interviewers and supervisors — feels like they’re working together towards a common goal.
- Identifying respondents – Just as with households, many studies require respondents who meet specific criteria. For instance, your study may require that you speak with a male head-of-house between the ages of 30 and 50 who has children under 20 living in the same household. It may be impossible to obtain statistics in advance to target such respondents. The interviewer may have to ask a series of filtering questions before determining whether the respondent meets the sampling needs.
- Piloting the interview – When one first introduces the interview, it’s a good idea to walk through the entire protocol so the interviewers can get an idea of the various parts or phases and how they interrelate.
- Rehearsing the interview – Several rehearsal sessions should be conducted with the interviewer team. Videotaping of rehearsal interviews can be done to discuss how the trainees responded in difficult situations. The interviewers should be very familiar with the entire interview before ever facing a respondent.
- Teaching about survey research – While you seldom have the time to teach a full course on survey research methods, the interviewers need to know enough that they respect the survey method and are motivated. Sometimes it may not be apparent why a question or set of questions was asked in a particular way. The interviewers will need to understand the rationale for how the instrument was constructed.
The Actual Interview
Each interview is unique, like a small work of art whether it’s a two-minute phone interview or a personal interview that spans hours, the interview is a bit of theater, a mini-drama that involves real lives in real time.
Each interview has its own ebb and flow — its own pace. To the outsider, an interview looks like a fairly standard, simple, prosaic effort. But to the interviewer, it can be filled with special nuances and interpretations that aren’t often immediately apparent. Every interview includes some common components. There’s the opening act, where the interviewer gains entry and establishes the rapport and tone for what follows. There’s the middle act, the heart of the process that consists of the protocol of questions and the improvisations of the probe. And finally, there’s the closing act, the wrap-up, where the interviewer and respondent establish a sense of closure.
The Opening Act
- Reciting the “Elevator Speech” – In many ways, the interviewer has the same initial problem that a salesperson has. They will have to get the respondent’s attention initially for a long enough periods that they can sell them on the idea of participating in the study. Many of the remarks here assume an interview that is being conducted at a respondent’s residence. The analogies to other interview contexts should be straightforward.
- Gaining entry – The first thing the interviewer must do is gain entry. Several factors can enhance the prospects. Probably the most important factor is one’s initial appearance. The interviewer needs to dress professionally and in a manner that will be comfortable to the respondent. In some contexts a business suit and briefcase may be appropriate. In others, it may intimidate. The way the interviewer appears initially to the respondent has to communicate some simple messages — that they are trustworthy, honest, and non-threatening. Cultivating a manner of professional confidence, the sense that the respondent has nothing to worry about because one knows what they are
- Introducing – Without waiting for the respondent to ask questions, one should move to introducing themselves. They should have this part of the process memorized so that they can deliver the essential information in 20-30 seconds at most. State the name of the organization represented. Show identification badge and the letter of introduction. Have as legitimate an appearance as possible. If one has a three-ring binder or clipboard with the logo of organization, have it out and visible.
- Explaining the study – At this point in time briefly explain the study. Keep it short, one or two sentence description of the study. Big words, jargon and unnecessary details should be avoided. The respondent doesn’t have to or want to know all of the neat nuances of this study, Some time should be spent on assuring the respondent that they are being interviewed confidentially, and that their participation is voluntary.
- Using questionnaire intelligently – The questionnaire is a friend. It was developed with a lot of care and thoughtfulness. While one has to be ready to adapt to the needs of the setting, the first instinct should always be to trust the instrument that was designed. A rapport need to establish with the respondent. Reading the questions directly from the questionnaire will appear unprofessional and disinterested. Often, there might be nervousness on both parties that should be addressed carefully. Memorizing the first few questions, and referring to the instrument only occasionally, using eye contact and a confident manner will help set the tone for the interview and help the respondent get comfortable.
- Asking questions – Sometimes an interviewer will think that they could improve on the tone of a question by altering a few words to make it simpler or more “friendly.” This should be avoided. The questions should be asked as they are on the instrument. If there was a problem with a question, it should have been raised during the training and rehearsals, not during the actual interview. It is important that the interview be as standardized as possible across respondents There might be temptation for one to think the change made while asking the questions are inconsequential, in fact, it may change the entire meaning of the question or response.
- Sequencing – During the interview, it may happen that a respondent bring up a topic that will be covered later in the interview. The jump to that section of the interview should be avoided. It is likely that one may lose the place where the order was interrupted and result in omitting questions that build a foundation for later questions.
- Elaborating – Just to encourage the respondent to give more information ask for elaboration. For instance, it is appropriate to ask questions like “Would you like to elaborate on that?” or “Is there anything else you would like to add?”
- Obtaining Adequate Responses – After asking a question, probe. If the respondent gives a brief, cursory answer. Just to elicit a more thoughtful, thorough response? Just probe. Silent probe – The most effective way to encourage someone to elaborate is to do nothing at all – just pause and wait. This is referred to as the “silent” probe. It works because the respondent is uncomfortable with pauses or silence. It suggests to the respondent that the interviewer is waiting, listening for what they will say next.
- Repeating – Use the old psychotherapist technique. Say something without really saying anything new. For instance, the respondent just described a interesting experience they had. Just say “What heard you say is that you found that experience very interesting.” Then, just pause. The respondent is likely to say something like “Well, yes, and it gave me a unique experience, even my family enjoyed it. In fact, my wife…”
- Encouraging the Respondent explicitly – Often, encouraging the respondent directly is required to obtain best answers. It should be done in a way that does not imply approval or disapproval of what they said as it could bias their subsequent results. Overt encouragement could be as simple as saying “Uh-huh” or “OK” after the respondent completes a thought.
- Clarifying – Sometimes, just to elicit greater detail ask the respondent to clarify something that was said earlier. For example, say, “You just were talking about your interesting experience; can you tell me more about that?”
- Recording the Response – Although we have the capability to record a respondent in audio and/or video, most interview methodologists don’t think it’s a good idea. Respondents are often uncomfortable when they know their remarks will be recorded word-for-word. They may strain to only say things in a socially acceptable way. Although one would get a more detailed and accurate record, it is likely to be distorted by the very process of obtaining it. This may be more of a problem in some situations than in others. It is increasingly common to be told that your conversation may be recorded during a phone interview. And most focus group methodologies use unobtrusive recording equipment to capture what’s being said. But, in general, personal interviews are still best when recorded by the interviewer using the traditional pen and paper approach.
- Recording responses immediately – The interviewer should record responses as they are being stated. This conveys the idea that the interviewer is interested enough in what the respondent is saying. Record certain key phrases or quotes verbatim. Develop a system for distinguishing what the respondent says verbatim from what are characterizing.
- Including information obtained through probing – One needs to indicate every single probe that one uses. Developing shorthand for different standard probes are helpful.
- Using abbreviations or other techniques to record expediently – Abbreviations will help to capture more of the discussion. Develop a standardized system. If an abbreviation is created while the interview is happening, have a way of indicating its origin.
The Middle Act and The Closing Act
After going through the entire interview, the interview needs to be brought to closure. Some important things must be remembered:
- Thanking the respondent – This is important. Even if the respondent was troublesome or uninformative, it is important to be polite and thank them for their time.
- Setting expectations on when the results would be published – It is annoying, when people conduct interviews and then don’t send results and summaries to the people who they get the information from. The interviewer owes it to the respondent to show them what the interviewer has learned. It’s common practice to prepare a short, readable, jargon-free summary of interviews that the interviewer can send to the respondents.
- Closing the conversation – Allow for a few minutes of winding down conversation. The respondent may want to know a little bit about the interviewer or how much the interviewer likes doing this kind of work. They may be interested in how the results will be used. Use these kinds of interests as a way to wrap up the conversation.. The interviewer doesn’t want the respondent to feel as though they completed the interview and then rushed out on them — they may wonder what they said that was wrong. On the other hand, the interviewer has to be careful here. Some respondents may want to keep on talking long after the interview is over. Interviewers have to find a way to politely cut off the conversation and make their exit.
- Documenting Immediately after completing the interview – Write down any notes about how the interview went. Sometimes one will have observations about the interview that they didn’t want to write down while they were with the respondent. The interviewer may have noticed them get upset at a question, or they may have detected hostility in a response. Immediately after the interview interviewers should go over your notes and make any other comments and observations
Analyzing the Interview Results
After creating and conducting interview, one must now process and analyze the results. These steps require strict attention to detail and, in some cases, knowledge of statistics and computer software packages. How these steps should be conducted will depend on the scope of study, and the audience to whom one wish to direct the work.
In general there are obviously advantages and disadvantages for using any interview method. It allows questioning to be guided as one wants it and can clarify points that need to be made clearer much more easily than in something like a mailed questionnaire. The technique does however rely on the respondent being willing to give accurate and complete answers They may often lie due to feelings of embarrassment, inadequacy, lack of knowledge on the topic, nervousness, memory loss or confusion. On the contrary, they may also provide very elaborate answers in an attempt to figure out the purpose of the study. Validity and reliability of the interview data may be influenced by these interviewing is a complex and demanding technique.
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