Clarifying question meaning in a household telephone survey

This study contrasts 2 interviewing techniques that reflect different tacit assumptions about communication. In one, strictly standardized interviewing, interviewers leave the interpretation of questions up to respondents. In the other, conversational interviewing, interviewers say whatever it takes to make sure the questions are interpreted uniformly and as intended. Results suggest that conversational interviewing improved comprehension, although it also lengthened interviews. The conclusion is that respondents in a national sample may misinterpret certain questions frequently enough to compromise data quality and that such misunderstandings cannot easily be eliminated by pretesting and rewording questions alone.