Probing and prompting

When open-ended questions are used the interviewer is often required to follow these up to obtain more information. There are two ways in which an interviewer can follow up the question with supplementary questions. The first of these is called probing. Probing is a non-directional prompt to the respondent. That is, the words used in the probe require the respondent to give additional information without indicating what kind of information that might be. 'What else?' may be used as a probe, or just a waiting silence.

Prompting is a directional supplementary question that indicates the kind of answer which the respondent might give.

For example, a common prompt following the question 'What brands of toothpaste have you ever heard of?' would be to show a prompt card listing the brands of toothpaste and ask the question 'Which of these brands have you ever heard of?' Where either a probe or prompt is used it should be written down on the questionnaire so that the researcher knows whether the information was volunteered with or without aid from the interviewer. Interviewers vary considerably in their skill and conscientiousness at using probes and prompts, and this varies the amount of data that is achieved from each respondent._

Where the use of probes and prompts is of importance in gathering the depth of information required, then these should be written directly on to the questionnaire to ensure that they are used appropriately by interviewers. Figure 8.5 shows an example of the use of probing, and Figure 9.1 illustrates the use of prompting.

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