Telephone questionnaires

Telephone research is a relatively low-cost way of achieving high response rates, notably in business-to-business research. In consumer research the cost advantage over the personal interview method is not as great, but the speed advantage can be overriding.

The types of question most appropriate to telephone surveys are brief, and require brief factual answers that the respondent can give accurately without much thought: 'Do you ...?' or 'Don't you ...?', 'Have you ...?' or 'Haven't you ...?' This is because the telephone call is going to interrupt the respondent in the middle of some other activity. The difficulty of establishing rapport over the telephone also makes it unusual for a long conversation to be practicable. Some companies have managed to avoid this problem by maintaining a panel of respondents from which a sample may be drawn.

Open-ended questions do not work very well over the telephone, because respondents tend to abbreviate responses so depth of response is lost. Similarly, long and complicated questions offering several categories of response should not be used because the respondent is unlikely to be able to remember the whole question by the time the interviewer reaches the end of it. Questions that would involve the use of a show card in a personal interview, or where the respondent may be required to look at a pack or an advertisement before answering are clearly not possible over the telephone. This can be overcome by sending material through the post to respondents and then telephoning to ask questions about it, but this may not work well if the respondent loses the material or reads directly from it when questioned.

Computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) is a service offered by a number of research agencies. It gives advantages in questionnaire presentation since the interviewer reads a question from the screen, types in the code appropriate to the respondent's answer, and the next question appears on the screen. In this way, quite complicated questionnaires using filter questions can be devised without worrying that the interviewer will become lost in the questionnaire. The possibility of questions being missed out is also eliminated since only one question appears on the screen and an answer must be keyed in before the next question will appear._

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