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Jennifer Dewey, NCREL

September 14, 2000

Guidelines for Survey Interviewing

The goal of standardization is that each respondent be exposed to the same question experience,
and that the recording of answers be the same, too, so that any differences in the answers can be
correctly interpreted as reflecting differences between respondents rather than differences in the
process that produced the answer.
Sources of Error in Surveys
1. Samples are a source of error when:
The sampling frame or list from which the sample was selected does not include
everyone in the population to be described.
There is some probability that by chance alone a sample will not perfectly reflect
the population from which it was drawn.
Those selected to be in the sample do not provide answers either by refusing to
participate or selectively refusing to provide answers to specific questions.
2. Questions are a source of error when:
They are misunderstood.
They require information respondents do not have or cannot recall.
Respondents are not willing to answer accurately.
3. Interviewers are a source of error when:
They do not read questions as worded.
They probe directively.
They bias answers by the way they relate to respondents.
They record answers inaccurately.
4. Data reduction is a source of error when:
Coders inconsistently apply coding rules or use faulty judgment about the codes
to apply.
Data are entered incorrectly into computer-usable files.
Standardized Interviewing Techniques
1. Questions should be read exactly as worded.
2. If the respondents answer to the initial question is not a complete and adequate answer,
probe for clarification and elaboration in a non-directive way; that is, a way that does not
influence the content of the answers that result.
3. Answers should be recorded without interviewer discretion; the answers recorded should
reflect what the respondent says.
4. The interviewer communicates a neutral, nonjudgmental stance with respect to the
substance of answers. The interviewer should not provide any personal information that
might imply any particular values or preferences with respect to topics to be covered in

Jennifer Dewey, NCREL

September 14, 2000

the interview, nor should the interviewer provide any feedback to respondents, positive or
negative, with respect to the specific content of the answers they provide.
Two obstacles to standardization:

An inadequate survey instrument

Respondents misunderstanding of what is expected of them

Reasons interviewers fail to be standardized:

Goal of accuracy seems to conflict with goal of standardization

Goal of maintaining rapport with the interviewee appears to conflict with goal of

Three non-directive probes:

How do you mean that?

Tell me more about that.
Anything else?

Guidelines for Recording Answers for Different Types of Questions

Open-ended, factual questions Write down all information relevant to the questions

Open-ended, opinion questions Write down the answer verbatim; use no paraphrasing
or summaries.

Close-ended, factual questions Check off the answer chosen by the respondent. If the
respondent is not certain which category fits, treat the question as an open question and
record all the relevant information. The final decision about how to treat the answer
should be made during the coding operation.

Close-ended, opinion questions Check off the answer chosen by the respondent. Probe
under the respondent chooses an answer. Do not check off an answer category unless the
respondent chooses it.

Being Interpersonally Neutral

The interviewer does not volunteer personal information to the respondent about life
situations, views or values.

During the interview interaction, the interviewer should be careful that the feedback
provided to respondents does not imply evaluation or judgment about the content of the
respondents answers.

Jennifer Dewey, NCREL

September 14, 2000

Establish the Context for Standardized Interviews

Explain the purpose or reason for the interview.

Establish the tone of the relationship between the interviewer and respondent.
Communicate the goals of the interview and the standards that will be applied.

Interviewer Characteristics that Might Affect Data

Some interviewers are better than others in carrying out the question and answer process.
Certain interviewer characteristics might alter the context or meaning of questions.
Interviewer characteristics might alter the quality of the relationship between the
interviewer and respondent.

Interviewer Training
Four parts to the interviewers job are:

Contacting respondents and enlisting cooperation.

Establishing a relationship with the respondent.
Handling the question-and-answer process.
Recording answers.

Methods of training:

Interviewer manual
Supervised practice
Monitoring performance, with evaluation and feedback, after training is over

Training affects:

The interviewers orientation to the job

The interviewers skills
The way interviewers relate to respondents and the way respondents react to them
Quality of the data collected

Adapted from: Fowler, F. J., & Mangione, T. W. (1990). Standardized survey interviewing.
Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.