Both interviews and surveys use the self-report method for research. This approach relies on participants’ own knowledge and communication of personality characteristics, attitudes, and behaviours. Researchers gather data by asking direct questions either face-to-face, by phone, mail, or online.
Structured designs ask the same questions of all participants. This allows researchers to make direct comparisons between participants. Alternatively, unstructured designs are more conversational, and allow for greater interaction between researcher and participant.
Regardless of the style of interview, a number of interpersonal variables should be taken into account in order to ensure the comfort and respect of participants, which will also likely lead to richer responses. Researchers can help to create a more positive interview environment for both participant and themselves by taking into account gender, ethnicity, the formal role dynamics of the interview environment, personal qualities of the participant and researcher, pressures surrounding social desirability, and the extent to which the researcher appears to be passing judgement on participants’ responses.
While some researchers have their interview questions strictly planned out in advance, others may rely upon a general roadmap of questions. In a non-directive interview, researchers remain non-judgemental and refrain from directing the conversation, allowing participants to speak about anything. Informal interviews are more explicit about their data collection goals than non-directive interviews, but may only direct the participant in order to keep her or him on target. Semi-structured interviews are characterized by slightly more intervention from the researcher, who likely has a list or topic of questions that he or she hopes to broach in a conversational style. In structured but open-ended interviews, the participant is presented with a number of pre-determined questions, but can answer those questions how she or he chooses. Fully structured interviews use the same list of pre-determined questions, but also have fixed or limited answer options.
When using semi-structured or open interviewing, researchers gain a substantial amount of qualitative data. This style of research is very demanding, and has a number of specific concerns. Providing the participant with information about the study to break the ice and create a comfortable interview environment is important. In addition, the researcher must be aware of any concerns surrounding anonymity and confidentiality for the participant.
In order to build rapport with participants, researchers can avoid jargon and use language that mirror’s the participants’. In addition, clearly listening, maintaining interest, and recognizing and reflecting the non-verbal communication of participants all help create a more productive and comfortable interview environment. Researchers should try and remain neutral in their responses to participants while creating a natural questioning environment.
Oftentimes interviews are recording and transcribed for later data analysis. One method for recording is note-taking, which can be tedious and can slow down the interview process, making the conversation less natural. Alternatively, audio or video recording can be used, which allows the researcher to focus on having a conversation, rather than making sure to write down everything the participant says. Regardless of the method desired, it is important to first get permission from the research participant.
Surveys are used to collect structured information from a large sample of people. This can oftentimes be an efficient method of data collection, but it tends to be more structured and less open-ended, providing participants with limited response options. Of key interest in surveys is the desired sample. As surveys are used to generalize from a sample to a population, researchers must make sure to select their sample carefully.
With modern technological advances, more and more surveys are conducted online. This is efficient both for researchers and participants, as the researcher need not be present when the survey is completed, and participants can complete the survey in their own time, at their own convenience. However, it is important to be wary about generalization for online samples, as even though Internet access is increasingly abundant, online samples are unlikely to be representative of a specific broader population.
Additional Online Resources
“In Defence of Self-Reports.” By Rebecca Norwick, Y. Susan Choi, and Tal Ben-Shachar for the Association for Psychological Science: https://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/uncategorized/on-self-reports.html
The importance of wording in survey items: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/08/20/new-poll-77-percent-suppo_n_264375.html
Tips for designing a good survey: http://www.surveysystem.com/sdesign.htm#design
Interesting article on the interaction between interviewer and respondent in a sensitive topic area: http://www.demographic-research.org/volumes/vol22/11/
Test your knowledge of the keywords and definitions in the chapter.
Interactive Quiz for Chapter 8
Instructions: For each question, click on the radio button beside your answer. When you have completed the entire quiz, click the “Submit my answers” button at the bottom of the page to receive your results.