Errors in Stimulating Responses – Market Research

Motivating the Respondent:

Whether data gathered by telephone, personal interview, or mail the information obtained will be influenced by the questioning process. This includes both the wording of the question and the way it is presented to the respondent. The former is the primary factor in mail surveys, but the manner in which the interviewer presents the question is important in both telephone and personal interview studies. Interviewers may vary in the way they state questions, thus causing problems which will be discussed further below. Interviewers can have equally important effects on results by the degree to which they motivate the respondent to report accurately.

Methods of motivating respondents to report accurately tend to fall into three categories: (1) get respondents to commit themselves to try conscientiously to report accurately and fully, (2) instruct respondents fully on what is expected of them and (3) provide respondents with feedback that lets them know how they are doing.

Problems of commitment may be particularly difficult over the telephone. One study approached the problem by reading the following statement:

In his research, it’s important for the University of Michigan to get accurate information – that is to get exact details on every item, even on those which may seem unimportant to you. It may take extra effort for you to report accurately. Are you willing to think carefully about each question in order to give accurate information?

If the respondent agreed to the above question, the following statement was read:

For part we will keep all information you give very confidential. Of course, the interview is voluntary. Should we come to any questions you do not want to answer just let me know and we’ll move on to the next one.

These statements appeared to secure commitment from those who agreed to them and to result in more valid data.

Instructions to respondents should clarify the purpose of the surveys and what is expected of the respondent. Specific detailed instructions should be written at appropriate places in the questionnaire for the interviewer to read to the respondent.
In an interview the interviewer wants to get as much information as he/she can. This includes things which may seem small and unimportant as well as important things.

At another place the following was inserted:

Some of these questions you would need to search your memory thoroughly, How difficult has it been to remember the things asked you so far. Has it been very difficult somewhat difficult or not difficult at all?

Another type of instruction is in the form of suggestions on how the respondent might go about producing correct answers:

Foe this question you will need to think back and remember whether you have ever had any of them (health conditions) even if it might be a long time ago.

In answering the next few questions it may help you to be accurate if you check a program listing or TV guide.

We’re interested in all television watching even short times. We find that if people think hard, they can sometimes remember other times when they saw or head the television even though they weren’t paying much attention.

Feedback or reactions that respondents receive from the interviewer in response to their answers to earlier questions be important influences on answers to later questions. In personal interviews some of this feedback may be nonverbal in character, but over the telephone it has to be verbal. Some feedback may be additional information on how to provide complete answers to questions, and other feedback may be approval or non-approval of the way questions were answered. The following are examples of these two types of feedback from the same study cited above. For one question believed to be difficult and to require respondents to search their memories interviewers timed the answers. If a respondent gave a negative answer in less than three seconds, the interviewer said:

As I mentioned something its hard for people to remember everything Perhaps if you think about it a little more, you will remember something you missed. Was there anything at all?
When respondents had obviously given a carefully thought out answer, the interviewer would say one of the following:

Thanks. This is the sort of information we are looking for in this search. It’s important to us to get this information. These details are helpful.

Commitment, instruction, and feedback can be used in the manner described as a regular part of the questionnaire. When these practices are followed, interviewers have a more standardized procedure that reduces the variation among interviewers while at the same time communicating more effectively with the respondents.