Research Methods for Information Research

3. Some types of interview

3.6 The telephone interview: constraints

Conducting the interview follows the lines of the face-to-face version but with several constraints. Naturally, unless you have the latest in cellular technology, you can’t see your respondent which means that you miss all of the small clues of body-language and facial expression that add texture to the interview. Similarly, the respondent can’t see you. Any pause at the other end of the telephone line feels much more lengthy than it is so, if you are taking detailed notes (and if not, why are you bothering at all?) tell the respondent what you are doing.

There are fewer opportunities to add variety to the telephone interview because you can’t show the respondent anything and, although you could send a checklist over in advance, you lose the opportunity to introduce the activity within a conversational context. Again, although respondents usually appear to concentrate quite carefully during telephone interviews, a lengthy interview will feel longer. The ideal length for a telephone interview is probably about 30 minutes, whereas a 45 minute version face-to-face would probably not feel long.

The other constraints are more psychological in character. Many people do not like speaking on the telephone (and this includes some researchers), some seem to find it more difficult to develop a train of thought on the ‘phone and a few have evolved such a staccato telephone manner that it may be hard to hear or interpret what is being said or to coax out much useful information. Perhaps most disconcerting of all was the respondent who, half way through an interview burst into hysterical laughter, tried to explain what she had seen a colleague do, fell to laughing again, then continued to giggle her way through the remaining questions. If she should chance to read this I’ve been wondering for years– what was so amazingly funny?