How can an interviewer, in attempting to attain certain data or information, elicit appropriate responses from an interviewee who initially provides an inadequate answer to a question?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The question, ‘how would or should a researcher conducting interviews for the purpose of accumulating information or data respond to survey or interview answers that do not provide adequate information’ is a slippery slope.  There are legitimate reasons for a researcher or interviewer to press an interviewee with altered or follow-up questions in an effort at ensuring the interviewee understands the question.  That would be entirely appropriate.  Even experienced researchers occasionally pose questions in an ambiguous or unclear way, and clarification for the purpose of eliciting answers germane to the topic is fine.

The problem occurs if the individual conducting the interview or survey manipulates the process for the purpose of eliciting the “right” answers to the questions.  There is a natural subconscious or, sometimes conscious, tendency for researchers, especially those with a vested interest in the outcome, to frame questions or press interviewees in an effort at eliciting precisely the answers the researcher wants in order to validate a hypothesis.  That is not okay, and will skew the outcome in a predetermined direction.

To the extent, however, that the researcher or interviewer suspects that there is a legitimate or sincere misunderstanding, and that the questions need to be rephrased or greater context added, than he or she is on morally and practically solid ground by doing so.  The integrity of the research process, though, is predicated upon the competency and sincerity of the researchers.  To reiterate, changing or clarifying the questions is legitimate if done for the purpose of ensuring that the interviewee understands what is being asked.  Pressing the interviewee for the “right” answer is not legitimate.

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