Journal of Official Statistics, Vol.8, No.3, 1992. pp. 277291

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Anatomy of the Survey Interview

This paper sets out to describe in detail the verbal interaction that takes place between interviewer and respondent during a survey interview. This is achieved by applying the technique of Interaction Coding to 68 tape-recorded interviews carried out during the annual British Social Attitudes Survey. The pattern of observed behaviour is compared with what should be expected to occur during an interview which is progressing in line with the intentions of the research designer, as expressed through the medium of the questionnaire. An appreciable amount of behaviour is found to lie outside these limits, mostly reflecting respondents' difficulties with questions or response tasks. Much of it would not seem to threaten the integrity of the survey data, but the extent of reliance on the initiative and skill of individual interviewers is considerable, creating the risk of variability between them.

Survey interview; interviewer-respondent interaction; interaction coding; interviewer skills; interviewer variability.

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