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ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF SURVEY FORMATS

Each major data-collection method—face-to-face, self-administered, telephone, and online interviews—has its advantages and disadvantages. Your choice of a method will depend on your own calculus of things like cost, convenience, and the nature of the questions you are asking.

Personal, Face-to-Face Interviews

Advantages of Face-to Face Interviews

  • 1. They can be used with people who could not otherwise provide information— respondents who are illiterate or nonliterate, blind, bedridden, or very old, for example.
  • 2. If a respondent doesn’t understand a question in a personal interview, you can fill in, and, if you sense that the respondent is not answering fully, you can probe for more complete data.

Conventional wisdom in survey research is that each respondent has to hear exactly the same question. In practice, this means not engaging in conversation with people who ask for more information about a particular item on a survey. Not responding to requests for more information might mean sacrificing validity for reliability. There is now evidence that a more conversational style produces more accurate data, especially when respondents really need to get clarifications on unclear concepts (Krosnick 1999; Schober and Conrad 1997).

So, carry a notebook that tells you exactly how to respond when people ask you to clarify an unfamiliar term. If you use more than one interviewer, be sure each of them carries a copy of the same notebook. Good interview schedules are pretested to eliminate terms that are unfamiliar to intended respondents. Still, there is always someone who asks: ‘‘What do you mean by ‘income’?’’ or ‘‘How much is ‘a lot’?’’

  • 3. You can use several different data collection techniques with the same respondent in a face-to-face survey interview. Part of the interview can consist of open-ended questions; another part may require the use of visual aids, such as graphs or cue cards; and in still another, you might hand the respondent a self-administered questionnaire booklet and stand by to help clarify potentially ambiguous items. This is a useful technique for asking really sensitive questions in a face-to-face interview.
  • 4. Personal interviews at home can be much longer than telephone or self-administered questionnaires. A 1-hour-long personal interview is relatively easy, and even 2- and 3- hour interviews are common. It is next to impossible to get respondents to devote 2 hours to filling out a questionnaire that shows up in the mail, unless you are prepared to pay well for their time; and it requires exceptional skill to keep a telephone interview going for more than 20 minutes, unless respondents are personally interested in the topic (Holbrook et al. 2003). Note, though, that street-intercept or mall-intercept interviews (where you interview people on the fly), although face to face, usually have to be very quick.
  • 5. Face-to-face respondents get one question at a time and can’t flip through the questionnaire to see what’s coming. If you design an interview to start with general questions (how people feel about using new technologies at work, for example) and move on to specific questions (how people feel about using a particular new technology), then you really don’t want people flipping ahead.
  • 6. With face-to-face interviews, you know who answers the questions.
 
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