Principles and Methods of Social Research

By William D. Crano; Marilynn B. Brewer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
12

INTERVIEWING

The research interview is a data collection method in which participants provide information about their behavior, thoughts, or feelings in response to questions posed by an interviewer. Unlike most of the observational methods discussed in chapter 11, interviews always involve some form of interaction between the investigator and the respondent, and this factor distinguishes the technique from self-administered questionnaire methods (see chap. 15) in which respondents sometimes never see, much less interact with, a researcher. The interactive nature of the interview, and its dependence on verbal or linguistic responses, constitutes at one and the same time its major strength and its major drawback as a method of social research.

It almost always is easier and cheaper to use written questionnaires completed by respondents than it is to expend the time and effort necessary for an interview (Bartholomew, Henderson, & Marcia, 2000).1 Thus, it is important to consider the circumstances under which an interview approach is most appropriate. Probably the most important basis for choosing the interview occurs when the nature of the research issue demands a personal, interactive, method of data collection. This might be the case, for instance, when highly sensitive information is sought, or when certain responses call for more probing for details than one could cover in a standard questionnaire format. Interviews also might be required with special respondent populations who might not be able to handle the requirements of a questionnaire (e.g., young children, the elderly, or people for whom the language of the interview is not their first language). Further, if the problem of nonresponse is a serious threat to research validity, it may be more likely that personal contact will achieve higher response rates than the more impersonal questionnaire approach.2

____________________
1
Questionnaire scale construction is discussed in detail in chapter 15.
2
Interviews, of course, are used in many contexts other than basic research data collection. The clinical interview is a valuable tool of diagnosis and treatment in mental health settings, and extensive participant interviews often accompany the debriefing phase of a laboratory experiment. However, these specialized uses of the in-depth interview technique are beyond the purview of this text. This chapter focuses on the use of the interview in the general context of survey research.

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