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Training Interviewers

If you hire interviewers, be sure to train them—and monitor them throughout the research. A colleague used a doctoral student as an interviewer in a project in Atlanta. The senior researcher trained the student but listened to the interview tapes that came in. At one point, the interviewer asked a respondent: ‘‘How many years of education do you have?’’ ‘‘Four,’’ said the respondent. ‘‘Oh,’’ said the student researcher, ‘‘you mean you have 4 years of education?’’ ‘‘No,’’ said the informant, bristling and insulted, ‘‘I’ve had 4 years of education beyond high school.’’ The informant was affluent; the interview was conducted in his upper-middle-class house; he had already told the interviewer that he was in a high-tech occupation. So monitor interviewers.

If you hire a team of interviewers, you have one extra chore besides monitoring their work. You need to get them to act as a team. Be sure, for example, that they all use the same probes to the various questions on the interview schedule. Especially with open- ended questions, be sure to do random spot checks, during the survey, of how interviewers are coding the answers they get. The act of spot-checking keeps coders alert. When you find discrepancies in the way interviewers code responses, bring the group together and discuss the problem openly.

Narratives are coded after the interview. If you use of team of coders, be sure to train them together and get their interrater reliability coefficient up to at least .70. In other words, make sure that your interviewers use the same theme tags to code each piece of text. For details on how to do this, see the section on Cohen’s Kappa in chapter 19.

Carey et al. (1996) studied the beliefs of 51 newly arrived Vietnamese refugees in upstate New York about tuberculosis. The interviews consisted of 32 open-ended questions on beliefs about symptoms, prevention, treatment, and the social consequences of having TB. The two interviewers in this study were bilingual refugees who participated in a 3-day workshop to build their interview skills. They were told about the rationale for open-ended questions and about techniques for getting respondents to open up and provide full answers to the questions. The training included a written manual (this is very important) to which the interviewers could refer during the actual study. After the workshop, the trainees did 12 practice interviews with Vietnamese adults who were not in the study.

William Axinn ran the Tamang Family Research Project, a comparative study of villages in Nepal (Axinn 1991). Axinn and his coworkers trained a group of interviewers using the Interviewer’s Manual from the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan (University of Michigan 1976). That manual contains the distilled wisdom of hundreds of interviewer training exercises in the United States, and Axinn found the manual useful in training Nepalese interviewers, too.

Axinn recruited 32 potential interviewers. After a week of training (5 days at 8 hours a day, and 2 days of supervised field practice), the 16 best interviewers were selected, 10 men and 6 women. The researchers hired more interviewers than they needed and after 3 months, 4 of the interviewers were fired. ‘‘The firing of interviewers who clearly failed to follow protocols,’’ said Axinn et al., ‘‘had a considerable positive effect on the morale of interviewers who had worked hard to follow our rules’’ (1991:200). No one has accused Axinn of overstatement.

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