The fact that an interview requires an interaction between people has important implications. First, people are often more likely to agree to answer questions for a real person than to answer a mailed questionnaire. Good interviewers become quite skilled in convincing people to participate. Thus, response rates tend to be higher when interviews are used. The interviewer and respondent often establish a rapport that helps motivate the person to answer all the questions and complete the survey. People are more likely to leave questions unanswered on a written questionnaire than in an interview. An important advantage of an interview is that the interviewer can clarify any problems the person might Page 145have in understanding questions. Further, an interviewer can ask follow-up questions if needed to help clarify answers.
One potential problem in interviews is called interviewer bias. This term describes all of the biases that can arise from the fact that the interviewer is a unique human being interacting with another human. Thus, one potential problem is that the interviewer could subtly bias the respondent’s answers by inadvertently showing approval or disapproval of certain answers. Interviewer characteristics such as race, sex, or age can influence responses, especially when asking about sensitive topics. Imagine how you might respond differently if a male or female interviewer is asking about your sexual history. Another problem is that interviewers may have expectations that could lead them to “see what they are looking for” in the respondents’ answers. Such expectations could bias their interpretations of responses or lead them to probe further for an answer from certain respondents but not from others—for example, when questioning Whites but not people from other groups or when testing boys but not girls. Careful screening and training of interviewers help to limit such biases.
We can now examine three methods of conducting interviews: face-to-face, telephone, and focus groups.
Face-to-face interviews Face-to-face interviews require that the interviewer and respondent meet to conduct the interview. Usually the interviewer travels to the person’s home or office, although sometimes the respondent goes to the interviewer’s office. Such interviews tend to be quite expensive and time-consuming. Therefore, they are most likely to be used when the sample size is fairly small and there are clear benefits to a face-to-face interaction.
Telephone interviews Almost all interviews for large-scale surveys are done via telephone. Telephone interviews are less expensive than face-to-face interviews, and they allow data to be collected relatively quickly because many interviewers can work on the same survey at once. Also, computerized telephone survey techniques lower the cost of telephone surveys by reducing labor and data analysis costs. With a computer-assisted telephone interview (CATI) system, the interviewer’s questions are prompted on the computer screen, and the data are entered directly into the computer for analysis.
Focus group interviews An interview strategy that is often used in industry is the focus group interview. A focus group is an interview with a group of about 6 to 10 individuals brought together for a period of usually 2–3 hours. Virtually any topic can be explored in a focus group. Often the group members are selected because they have a particular knowledge or interest in the topic. Because the focus group requires people to both spend time and incur some costs traveling to the focus group location, participants usually receive some sort of monetary or gift incentive.
Page 146The questions tend to be open-ended, and they are asked of the whole group. An advantage here is that group interaction is possible: People can respond to one another, and one comment can trigger a variety of responses. The interviewer must be skilled in working with groups both to facilitate communication and to deal with problems that may arise, such as one or two persons trying to dominate the discussion or hostility between group members.
The group discussion is usually recorded and may be transcribed. The tapes and transcripts are then analyzed to find themes and areas of group consensus and disagreement. Sometimes the transcripts are analyzed with a computer program to search for certain words and phrases. Researchers usually prefer to conduct at least two or three discussion groups on a given topic to make sure that the information gathered is not unique to one group of people. However, because each focus group is time-consuming and costly and provides a great deal of information, researchers do not conduct very many such groups on any one topic.