Asking the questions yourself

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In smaller companies, industrial companies and companies that have not used research previously, there is a strong temptation on the part of the newly appointed and usually inexperienced research executive to carry out his or her own research programme. For large-scale research surveys or for group discussion or focus groups this is unlikely to be viable: in the first case because of the time and expense involved in using one's own time on a routine and repetitive task, and in the second case because the executive is unlikely to have the appropriate skills for the method to work to its best advantage. However, for industrial and trade interviewing when only 20 or 30 depth interviews may be required for an exploratory survey it could well be feasible for the manager to carry these out personally. Indeed, there may be good commercial and technical reasons for doing so for a small project, with no necessity for confidentiality. A desk research exercise followed by 15-20 personal interviews or by a postal questionnaire could readily be carried out by a manager with enough time and motivation, if the following points are borne in mind.

First, serious thought should be given to the real costs of do-it-yourself interviewing. It is too easy to count one's own time as 'free'. Second, the implications for the quality of data to be obtained if the sponsor is identified as personally carrying out the survey must be considered. Third, a manager must objectively decide whether he or she has, or can acquire, the appropriate skills. A manager used to decision making, authority and generally playing an assertive role at work may find the role play required to succeed as an interviewer particularly difficult. Essentially, it is necessary to present to the respondent a neutral, empathetic and passively accepting personality. The questions must be asked in a straightforward manner that gives no clues, either verbal or non-verbal, as to the kind of answers that would be most acceptable. The interviewer must be aware of his or her own effect upon the respondent, and above all, must resist the temptation to 'correct' the respondent who makes remarks that the researcher knows to be factually inaccurate.

Whether a manager is able to fulfil successfully the role of industrial or trade researcher is a matter of individual trial and error. It is, nevertheless, a highly salutary experience to attempt to carry out one's own fieldwork, and certainly increases the manager's insight into and understanding of the market in which he or she operates. It is also a useful learning device which enables managers to appreciate exactly what they are expecting interviewers to accomplish for them. However, if an organization intends to carry out research in any regular way, do-it-yourself interviewing will very quickly become too demanding in terms of time for the manager to carry out all the research personally. Experience suggests that organizations experimenting with the use of research will quickly realize the need to use professional interviewing services.

A situation in which it may be desirable to ask the questions oneself is if one is involved in questionnaire design. Piloting the questionnaire during the drafting procedure is a very worthwhile experience in producing better questions and better questionnaires. It will give a better feeling for the contribution that questionnaire interviews are able to make to the research problem and for what their limitations might be.

Team LiB

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