The Benefits of Conversational Interviewing Are Independent of Who Asks the Questions or the Types of Questions They Ask

  • Frost A Hubbard Westat, Inc
  • Frederick G Conrad
  • Christopher Antoun
Keywords: conversational interviewing, nonverbal sensitivity, measurement error


By clarifying the meaning of survey questions, interviewers help assure that respondents and researchers interpret questions the same way. This practice is at the heart of conversational interviewing and has been shown to improve response accuracy relative to standardized interviewing. This research investigates two issues: (1) Does conversational interviewing lead to improved response quality for opinion questions as it does for factual questions? and (2) Are some interviewers better suited to conduct conversational interviews than others?  490 respondents in the University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers participated in standardized telephone interviews after which they were re-asked five factual and five opinion questions. These questions were re-administered in conversational interviews for half the respondents; for the remaining half they were re-administered in standardized interviews. Interviewers also completed a nonverbal sensitivity questionnaire. Using response change between the two administrations of each question to measure response quality, the conversational technique improved quality while increasing interview duration. The comprehension benefits of conversational interviewing were no greater for opinion than factual questions. Moreover, interviewers low in nonverbal sensitivity more often gave definitions before respondents were able to speak, but this did not affect data quality (response change).  Taken togetherthese results suggest that conversational interviewing can beeffectively administered by a range of professional interviewers,although those who are more attuned to respondents' comprehensionwill be more efficient, and the technique will equally benefit thequality of responses to questions about objective and subjectivephenomena. 

Author Biography

Frost A Hubbard, Westat, Inc
Senior Survey Sampling Statistician
How to Cite
Hubbard, F. A., Conrad, F. G., & Antoun, C. (2020). The Benefits of Conversational Interviewing Are Independent of Who Asks the Questions or the Types of Questions They Ask. Survey Research Methods, 14(5), 515-531.