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Disadvantages of Face-to-Face Interviews

  • 1. They are intrusive and reactive. It takes a lot of skill to administer a questionnaire without subtly telling the respondent how you hope he or she will answer your questions. Other methods of administration of questionnaires may be impersonal, but that’s not necessarily bad, especially if you’ve done the ethnography and have developed a set of fixed-choice questions for a questionnaire. Furthermore, the problem of reactivity increases when more than one interviewer is involved in a project. Making it easy for interviewers to deliver the same questions to all respondents is a plus.
  • 2. Personal interviews are costly in both time and money. If you are working alone, without assistants, in an area that lacks good roads, don’t plan on doing more than 150-200 face-to-face interviews in a year. If you’re working in major cities in Europe or North America you can do more, but it gets really, really tough to maintain a consistent, positive attitude long before you get to the 200th interview. With mailed and telephone questionnaires, you can survey thousands of respondents.

In addition to the time spent in interviewing people, locating respondents in a representative sample may require going back several times. In urban research especially, count on making up to half a dozen callbacks to get the really hard-to-find respondents.

It’s important to make all those callbacks to land the hard-to-get interviews. Survey researchers sometimes use the sampling by convenient replacement technique— going next door or down the block and picking up a replacement for an interviewee who happens not to be home when you show up. As I mentioned in chapter 5, this homogenizes your sample and makes it less and less representative of all the variation in the population you’re studying.

3. Personal interview surveys conducted by lone researchers over a long period of time run the risk of being overtaken by events. A war breaks out, a volcano erupts, or the government decides to cancel elections and imprison the opposition. It sounds dramatic, but these sorts of things are actually quite common across the world. Far less dramatic events can make the responses of the last 100 people you interview radically different from those of the first 100 to the same questions. If you conduct a questionnaire survey over a long period of time in the field, it is a good idea to reinterview your first few respondents and check the stability (reliability) of their reports.

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