Interaction and the Standardized Survey Interview: The Living Questionaire

Interaction and the Standardized Survey Interview: The Living Questionaire

Interaction and the Standardized Survey Interview: The Living Questionaire

Interaction and the Standardized Survey Interview: The Living Questionaire

Synopsis

This is the first study of its kind to investigate in detail the interaction between interviewers and respondents in standardized social survey interviews. Applying the techniques of conversation analysis, Hanneke Houtkoop-Steenstra reveals how certain rules of normal conversation fail to apply in form-based interviews, and offers original empirical evidence to show what really happens. Highly accessible, her book sets out the tools of conversation analysis, and points to ways of improving survey compilation and the validity of data. It offers great insight to anyone studying survey methodology.

Excerpt

I have researched conversation since I graduated from the Department of General Linguistics at the University of Amsterdam. For the first seven years I studied everyday telephone conversations, and I then became interested in what I referred to as “interviewing techniques” in doctor-patient interaction. What did the textbooks say about how medical doctors should interact with their patients, and how did these interviewing techniques work out in real interactions? the advice these books provided was mainly based on psychological and socio-psychological theories of human interaction, and the real interactions often were not as successful as the textbooks predicted.

Being interested in interaction, and especially in the relationship between “how it should be done” and “how it is actually done, ” I chose the standardized survey interview as a uniquely interesting research object. a considerable amount of what we know about the social world comes from survey research that finds its way into books, articles, and the mass media. This survey research occasionally provides some general information about the questionnaire, the sample interviewed, and the statistical analysis, but it does not explain what actually happens in the interviews. in fact, the reader and/or user of survey research results is made to believe that interviewers read the questions exactly as they are scripted and respondents behave exactly as they are supposed to behave.

In order to learn what is going on in this part of the survey research procedure, we need to examine questionnaires and analyze recorded interviews. the questionnaires inform the analyst about what interviewers and respondents are supposed to do, whereas the actual interviews demonstrate what they are really doing. When a Dutch survey research organization permitted me to listen to their interviewers doing computer-assisted telephone survey interviews, I was surprised by what I heard. Respondents requested question clarification, interviewers asked questions respondents had previously answered, respondents answered “yes” or “no” although they seemed unsure of what the question meant, and . . .

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