Introduction

An interview is understood as 'a conversation for the purpose of gathering information' and this definition emphasizes the functional nature of the interview situation. Thus, although an interview may have the superficial structure of a conversation, it is actually a situation in which one party to the interchange, the interviewer, is required to obtain the answers to a predetermined set of questions or topics from the other party to the interchange, the respondent. It is this task-related view of the interview situation that is best understood by the researcher using interviews as a method of data collection. However, a sociological definition of a conversation is 'an interpersonal behaviour event: an interaction in which the action of one is both a response and a stimulus to the other'. This draws attention to the fact that when people engage in conversation, however purposeful, there is an undercurrent of social and non-verbal interplay that may affect the nature of their co-operation in the conversation process. It is understanding both the task and social elements of the interview situation that makes interviewing a skilled task.

Good interviewing procedures are of fundamental importance in the data collection process. No matter how good the planning procedures that go before the fieldwork or the analysis that follows it, it is in the process of raw data collection in the field that the quality of research undertaken is determined. The computer acronym 'GIGO' (garbage in, garbage out) holds equally true in data collection. If bad data is collected in the field, bad research information will be produced. For this reason it is necessary to consider who the interviewer should be, the skills and problems surrounding the interviewing process and the characteristics of interviewers themselves.

Since interviewing is a skilled task and since the maintenance of these skills is a lengthy procedure, it is usual in large-scale research exercises for the interviewing to be carried out by interviewers from research agencies, or by specialist fieldwork agencies. It is most unusual for businesses to maintain their own field force. The processes that agencies use to supervise and control interviewers are therefore reviewed, along with advice on selecting and using an agency for fieldwork. The chapter concludes with a brief section on 'do-it-yourself' interviewing.

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