ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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Do Interviewers Make Good Tailors? The Effect of Conversational Interviewer Introductions on Survey Participation

David Lee Vannette

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 8 - Law Building, Room 100
Date: 2012-07-11 01:30 PM – 03:00 PM
Last modified: 2012-05-15


In an effort to increase survey participation, telephone interviewers are often encouraged to tailor their introductions so that they are comfortable delivering them and can address potential respondent concerns. Previous research has demonstrated that interviewer behavior can have a significant impact on response rates. This paper presents evidence on two related fronts, first that interviewers do indeed tailor their introductions, and second that different components of the content of these tailored introductions may have positive and negative effects on respondents’ decision to participate.

Respondents’ decisions to participate in a telephone survey are influenced, at least in part, by what the interviewer communicates about the survey during the introduction. Some interviewers are more successful, and others less so, in convincing potential respondents to participate in surveys. Interviewers who are successful at making the survey salient to respondents may achieve higher response rates.

Interviewers are often encouraged to develop an introduction that they are comfortable delivering to potential respondents, leading to natural variation between interviewers in the content of their introductions. Furthermore, to reduce the chances of a refusal experienced interviewers report that they constantly tailor their approach toward a household. The cues that inform how interviewers decide to tailor the content of the interview introduction may include (but are not limited to) demographic characteristics of the respondent, the affect of the respondent, the number of previous contact attempts to the household, and any recorded notes about previous contacts with the respondent. Groves and Couper (1998) suggest “…interviewers are free to apply the “tailoring” over several turns in the contact conversation.”

This research makes use of a large and unique dataset of 697 recorded and behavior-coded interview introductions from the Survey of Consumers, conducted at the University of Michigan Survey Research Center. The study examines whether or not telephone interviewers predictably tailor the content of their introductions in response to known information about the number of previous contact attempts to the household and also examines the ways in which varying content features of the survey introduction influence potential respondents’ decision to participate.

The author gratefully acknowledges the contributions and assistance of Frederick Conrad, Jessica Broome, Jose Benki, Frauke Kreuter, and Robert Groves.

Groves, R. M., and Couper, M. (1998), Nonresponse in Household Interview Surveys, New York: Wiley.