Fieldwork: techniques to approach respondents

What should one tell respondents in the first phone call? How to break the ice and raise interest in one's research?

We had a useful discussion on fieldwork experiences during our Marie Curie Network School at KU Leuven last week. It turned out that some of us might have problems of access and I would like to share some ideas on that with fellow Phds and the wider network.

The following checklist by Weiss (1995: 35) is really helpful. This is what you need to tell the respondent in a first phone call in order to have him on board for you research:

1. who the investigator is (job or position),

2. reasons for the study (why it matters),

3. the study's sponsorship (highly useful here are governments or the EU),

4. how the respondent's name was found (or who gave you his number),

5. why the respondend was selected (why he/she is important for you research),

6. the purpose of the interview,

7. the (kinds of) questions to be asked or topics to be addressed,

8. whether confidentiality is guaranteed and

9. whether or not you will use tape record.

Source: Robert S. Weiss (1994) 'Learning from Strangers. The Art and Method of Qualitative Interview Studies', New York: TheFfree Press.

This source was thankfully pointed out to students by Marie Ostergaard Moller from Aarhus University Denmark during the ECPR Winter School in Methods and Techniques in February 2014.

Best of luck to all,

Mona Aranea (ESR 2)

Actions: Comments (4)


18 June 2014 16:36
Thank you Mona for your blog entry! I just would like to notice that the 7th point you mentioned - informing the respondent about the kinds of questions to be asked - is not always desirable. For example, in case of my research I am applying the biographical narrative interviews as a method of collecting data, and this approach is based among others on the assumption that the narration about the life story needs to be spontaneous. Therefore in order to omit earlier preparation on the side of informant I rather use general formulations. Moreover, I am not always able to contact somebody by phone, what surely constraints my persuasiveness skills. On the one hand, the call for respondents needs to be professionally written, but on the other hand, it cannot be too "stiff" and deter potential informants. From my experience, a good way to deal with it is posting the CFP on the internet forums and following up the discussion, answering all questions and explaining all ambiguities. I also asked people who I already talked with, to write the comment that it was OK. In this way they authenticate my research, and I received more contacts.
18 June 2014 17:35
Interesting points Mateusz!
You are probably right that whether or not you follow all the items in Weiss´ list depends on your research approach. Concerning point seven, I normally mention the topics I want to talk about rather then concrete questions.
What I found very helfpul is point 4: mention you gave you the respondent´s number. That has broken the ice in all phone calls which is why I normally start with that.
17 July 2014 13:26
Hi there! Thank you Mona for the entry and the list!
Since I am, as Mateusz, also conducting biographical narrative interviews, I would rather use this list for my expert interviews, which I conduct in a semi-structured fashion. I think for the profile of my experts such as stakeholders, academics and community activists this is a very useful list that provides the most important information.

In relation to respondents, which in my case are female Polish migrant workers, I think this could potentially be intimidating. I found that building trust or some form of personal connection at the beginning is more important and then can be followed by details on the research. Whenever I would approach someone and explain all about the research at first or even state my job title first, it would later take them longer to agree to give me an interview. By building trust I don't mean establishing a friendship and going for coffee or anything, but just who I am, where I am from, how I learned Polish and so on, just like a quick small-talk introduction. Then later I would explain all the points in the list (except 7) and also hand them an information sheet later at the interview with all the details for them to keep.

And I completely agree with the beneficial effect of having being referred to them by someone they know, stating this at the very beginning makes people so much more accessible. But of course for this you utilize a form of snow-balling and have to be careful not to end up with a very homogenous, potentially biased sample. I am relieved that didn't happen to me - see my blog entry on fieldwork experiences :)
# Anonymous
05 December 2014 15:29
December 2014 Theme 1

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