Sociology, Department of
What Do Interviewers Learn?: Changes in Interview Length and Interviewer Behaviors over the Field Period
Date of this Version
Published in Interviewer Effects from a Total Survey Error Perspective, ed. Kristen Olson, Jolene D. Smyth, Jennifer Dykema, Allyson L. Holbrook, Frauke Kreuter, and Brady T. West (2020), Boca Raton: CRC Press, pp. 279-291.
Interviewers are important actors in telephone surveys. By setting the pace for an interview, interviewers communicate the amount of time and cognitive effort respondents should put into their task. It is well-established that interviewers vary widely in the time they spend administering a survey, and that this time changes over the course of the data collection period as interviewers gain experience (Bohme and Stohr 2014; Kirchner and Olson 2017; Loosveldt and Beullens 2013a, 2013b; Olson and Bilgen 2011; Olson and Peytchev 2007). In particular, interviewers get faster as they gain experience over the field period of a survey.
The within-survey effect of experience on interview length is generally attributed to interviewer learning effects. In particular, a learning effect occurs when interviewers learn how to change their behaviors to more quickly administer questions. This can include positive changes in behaviors over the field period such as error-free administration of questions or negative changes such as shortening questions (i.e., non-standardization) or avoiding positive, time-consuming behaviors like probing or verifying answers (e.g., Bohme and Stohr 2014; Kirchner and Olson 2017; Loosveldt and Beullens 2013a, 2013b; Olson and Peytchev 2007). Other hypotheses about why the length of interview changes over the course of the data collection period, including characteristics of the respondents or interviewers or differential respondent motivation correlated with their response propensity, have not explained away the learning effect (e.g., Kirchner and Olson 2017). However, Kirchner and Olson (2017) found that a measure of the interaction between interviewers and respondents—the number of words spoken by the interviewer and by the respondent —partially mediated the interviewer learning effect.
Despite the well-replicated finding that interviewers speed up over the field period, what behaviors change and whether they explain the decrease in interview length over the course of data collection has not been previously examined in published articles. This chapter examines two research questions:
RQ1: What standardized, nonstandardized, and inefficient interviewer behaviors change over the course of the data collection period?
RQ2: Do these behaviors account for changes in interview length over the course of the data collection period?
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