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Telephone Interviews

Advantages of Telephone Interviews

  • 1. Telephone interviews are inexpensive and convenient to do. By the 1970s, answers to many different kinds of questions asked over the phone in the United States were found to be as valid as those to questions asked in person or through the mail (Dillman 1978). Today, telephone interviewing is the most widely used method of gathering survey data across the industrialized nations.
  • 2. Phone interviews have the impersonal quality of self-administered questionnaires and the personal quality of face-to-face interviews. So, telephone surveys are unintimidating (like self-administered questionnaires), but allow interviewers to probe or to answer questions dealing with ambiguity of items (just like they can in personal interviews).
  • 3. Using random digit dialing (RDD), you can reach almost everyone who has a phone, including cell phones. In the highly industrialized countries, that means you can reach almost everybody. One survey found that 28% of completed interviews using RDD were with people who had unlisted phone numbers (Taylor 1997:424). There are huge regional differences, though, in the availability of telephones (see below).
  • 4. It is relatively easy to monitor the quality of telephone interviewers’ work by having them come to a central place to conduct their operation. But if you don’t monitor the performance of telephone interviewers, you invite cheating. (See below, in the section on the disadvantages of telephone interviewing.)
  • 5. There is no reaction to the appearance of the interviewer in telephone surveys, although respondents do react to accents and speech patterns of interviewers.

Oskenberg et al. (1986) found that telephone interviewers who had the lowest refusal rates had higher-pitched, louder, and clearer voices. And, as with all types of interviews, there are gender-of-interviewer and race-of-interviewer effects in telephone interviews, too. Respondents try to figure out the race or ethnicity of the interviewer and then tailor responses accordingly. (See the section on response effects in chapter

  • 8.)
  • 6. Telephone interviewing is safe. You can talk on the phone to people who live in urban neighborhoods where many professional interviewers (most of whom are women) would prefer not to go. Telephones also get you past doormen and other people who run interference for the rich.
 
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