Journal of Official Statistics, Vol.11, No.2, 1995. pp. 147160

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Understanding the Standardized/Non-Standardized Interviewing Controversy

The debate of how “standardized” the survey interview should be is examined, exploring the nature of the past development of standardization, reasons for current standardization practice, and shortcomings that are being addressed by recent calls for less standardized interviews. Various literature on interviewing – historical, methodological, and actual interviewing manuals – is examined. Viewed together, these materials show the evolution of the role of interviewer. Interviewers were first employed to “humanize” the research process, but practical concerns led to a drastic reduction in the amount of control they had in the research process. The notion that “rapport” was important allowed interviewers to retain some control of the interaction with respondents; when this idea lost popularity, an extreme move toward eliminating interviewer error began. The future challenge for researchers is to retain the benefits offered by standardization while resolving legitimate shortcomings of standardized interviewing as currently practiced. Possible strategies are discussed.

Survey research interviewing; data collection; open-ended questions.

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