Chapter Activities

Experiential Exercises

(1) Interviewing Isn’t as Easy as You Think

In this project, you will conduct three key informant interviews. It is best if you can tape-record the interviews but make sure to get the consent of your informants!

(a)  Select a topic of interest that you know a little about but would like to explore further. It’s not a good idea to choose a topic for which you are already an expert.

(b)  Do some preliminary investigation on the topic so that you have some idea of what are salient issues. Develop a list of at least 10 key points that you would like more information about. Write specific questions about each point and think about nondirective probes that could be used. It’s not a bad idea to run a mock interview on a patient friend.

(c)  Select three key informants who have knowledge of this topic, are willing to speak to you, and represent some range of opinion on the topic.

(d) Set up interviews at their convenience. Explain that the interview is for a class project and will be used only for this purpose. Explain how each informant was selected and discuss how you will maintain confidentiality (unless they specifically waive this requirement).

(e)  Arrive at the first interview on time, with a professional appearance. Re-explain the purpose of the interview and confidentiality issues. Request permission to audiotape the interview.

(f)  Ask questions that you prepared, altering them where needed and probing where necessary.

(g)  At the end of the interview, thank the informant and ask if it would be okay to contact them for clarification in the future.

(h)  Once you have left the interview, jot down your impressions of the interview, including your own thoughts and feelings. This should be free-form, stream-of-consciousness writing but should be as thorough as possible.

(i)   Listen to the tape of the interview. As you do so, take notes on your own performance and on how you could improve your interviewing skills. Also take note of any clarifications that you might need from your respondent.

(j)   Modify your interview schedule (list of questions) based on the first interview.

(k)  Repeat steps 4-10 for the next two interviewers.

(l)   If necessary, schedule clarification interviews in which you ask respondents to clarify things they brought up in earlier interviews.

(m) Write a brief essay about the process of interviewing. Was it as easy as you thought? What were the most difficult parts of the process?

(2) Develop a Questionnaire

Have each group develop a 10-question closed-ended questionnaire for a survey about student stress (or some other topic). Each member of each group should keep a copy of the 10 questions. Once the groups are ready, pair each individual with a person from a different group. Have them conduct cognitive interviews with their partner, in which they explain their responses. When interviews are complete, have each group reform and rewrite their questionnaire, given the feedback from the cognitive interviews.

(3) A Short Telephone Survey

Many people (myself included) are fed up with telemarketing and other phone solicitations, so plan this survey exercise very carefully. Keep the instrument very short and interesting. Be very pleasant on the phone no matter what response you get to your request for an interview. And prepared to say “Thank you anyway, I’m sorry I bothered you” if they refuse.

(a) Select a topic for a short phone survey. This might be a current issue in the news or a general concern in the community. For the purposes of this exercise, avoid topics that are very emotionally charged, such as terrorist bombings or abortion rights.

(b) Pose one or more hypotheses about possible influences on attitudes about this issue or concern.

(c) Write about 10 questions that measure the variables in your hypothesis/es.

(d) Organize your questions into a logical flow and pretest them on classmates.

(e) Develop a brief introductory statement that covers the focus of your survey, its auspices (a class project at your college or university), and its length (hopefully, only a few minutes). Your statement should include the request that you would like to speak to any adult in the household. Try this out on a few friends and make whatever revisions seem warranted.

(f) Select one or more communities in which you will conduct your phone survey and determine the corresponding phone exchanges (these are usually the first three digits after an area code and can be found in most telephone books). Devise a scheme to sample randomly the appropriate range of phone numbers (using a random numbers table). Select 50 random phone numbers.

(g) Start making calls from your list until you have called all 50 numbers or until you have completed 10 interviews (whichever comes first). Whenever you reach a business, apologize, explain that you were trying to reach someone else, and hang up. Take note of refusals, answering machines, numbers for which the phone was not answered, and out-of-service numbers.

(h) Describe your experiences in a short paper. Report on the number of calls answered, the number that reached a household, the number that reached an adult, the number (and percentage) of refusals, and responses to your survey questions. What have you learned about phone interviewing? Which survey questions seem to need improvement?

(4) Questionnaire Construction and Interviewing

Ask small groups of students to create a questionnaire that contains 10 closed-ended questions and two open-ended questions on a topic of their choosing. Each member of the group should have copies of all questions. Working then in pairs from within each group, each student should interview another student using this interview schedule while their partner observes (groups with odd number of people must have flexible partnerships). Students should discuss their experiences with their partners and then write a brief critique of their own interview. Ask students to comment on their overall manner, the consistency of delivery of the closed-ended questions and the effectiveness of their probes. When interviewing is complete, reassemble each group to present on their findings. Ask groups to compare the data obtained from the open-ended questions with those obtained from closed-ended questions.

 Individual and Group Activities

(1) GSS Study Design

In this project, you will need to access the questionnaire from the General Social Survey, available at

(a) Make sure to note the Sample and Ballot form of the questionnaire.

(b) Browse through the questionnaire.

(c) Based on your browse, suggest a research hypothesis. Identify at least two questions from the GSS questionnaire measures the dependent variable in your hypothesis and each one of your independent variables.

(d) Find at least three academic research articles that pertain to your hypothesis (try very hard to find other articles that have used the same variables, and with luck, the same questions from the GSS). Make note of different variables used in these studies.

(e) Return to the GSS questionnaire and locate questions that pertain to additional variables identified through the literature review.

(f) Construct a series of testable hypothesis using questions in the GSS questionnaire.

(g) Test the hypothesis using GSS data. If you have already had statistics, you may do this on your own. The GSS website also allows you to run some simple statistics. Otherwise, you may ask your instructor for help.

(h) Write a brief report in which you analyze the literature and present your findings from the GSS data set.

(2) Computer-Assisted Interviewing

Go to the Research Triangle Institute site at Click on “Survey Research & Services” then “Innovations.” Read about their methods for computer-assisted interviewing and their cognitive laboratory methods for refining questions. What does this add to my treatment of these topics in this chapter?

(3) Science and Survey Findings

Select a topic of interest for the class or allow smaller groups to select their own topic. (An easy topic of interest is satisfaction in relationships; there are ample data available in scientific and popular print!). Instruct each group to locate survey findings about the topic, making sure to investigate both the scientific literature and popular media. Each group should locate the most compelling “factoid” from a scientific survey and the most outlandish finding from a nonscientific survey. Compare results in class.