Introduction to Telephone Interviews in Research

Before discussing the advantages and disadvantages of telephone interviews for research, I believe it is best to go through an example to gain a clear idea as to exactly what this method of 'telephone interview' data collection entails. 

It is simply a researcher or research team who collects data usually from households via a telephone interview. So for example, say the researcher wanted to create a study  to compare a household's total income with that of the value of the entire household's assets. The researcher would ring each each household, interview them on the phone and collect all the necessary details and data. 

Advantages of Telephone Interviews in Research

Time Saving & Transport Effective - by conducting a phone interview, rather than a face to face interview, will obviously provide you with the benefit of 'saved time'. For example, the time needed to locate yourself to and from the location of which the face to face interview which would have taken place. In the example, the researcher would have to travel to each one of the household's actual physical location, where as with a telephone there is no need for such transportation.

Effort Effective - a phone interview in general takes just a lot less effort to establish than a face to face interview. For example, the location has to be organized along with the time of meeting has to be established. Moreover, the likelihood of the duration of a face to face interview will take longer also, in contrast to a telephone interview for research.

Cost Saving - the actual costs are cheaper in conducting a telephone interview than a face to face interview. It will be a lot cheaper to do a 100 telephone interviews compared to that of a 100 face to face interviews. Monetary costs can arise due to examples such as hiring people to conduct the surveys, cost of transportation with fuel etc. Where costs of transportation would not occur with a telephone interview for the 100 households.

Large Scale - because of the above three benefiting factors above 'time saving', 'effort effective' and 'monetary cost savings', along with many households having access to a landline or phone, the technique of data collection via telephone interviews allows you to access a lot more people with the same amount of resources, (i.e holding all else equal), when compared to that of the face to face interview techniques. Therefore, essentially you can gain more data points and increase the reliability and relationship between data.

Fast Data Collection - again an additional benefit to telephone survey is the speed at which the data can be collected will obviously be faster than that of the face to face interview technique, you are able to ring one household and straight on to the next. The researcher can even input the data straight into the computer as they are speaking over the telephone, and if the call was recorded, they can go back over what was previously stated. 

Disadvantages of Telephone Interviews in Research

They may not be telling the 'accurate' truth - as with all interviews and most data collection, there is a drawback with having just the household's word for the answers, in our example mostly figures, does not mean they are indeed correct. Whether that be due to intent or simply approximations and roundings does not provide accurate data. However, in a face to face interview, you can ask them to validate such answers with receipts etc.

Prohibited from Using Images and Visual Aids in a Question - when conducting a phone interview or survey you obviously cannot use images and other visual interactions within a telephone interview which therefore might produce some restrictions to the type of questions asked in the telephone interview, which could have otherwise been conducted within a face to face interview.

Intruding Questions and Uncomfortable - the people (the households) who are providing the data, may feel uneasy or uncomfortable on the phone answering such personal questions (such as given within our example). Then some may therefore refuse to answer some of the questions (if at all). Hence, this will cause the data collected to be misrepresentative as it does not include the entire population and may present a bias to a certain type of household. 

Difficult to Explain a Situation - over the telephone it can be sometimes difficult to explain a certain situation, which could be better explained face to face. Moreover, with a telephone line sometimes the clarity can be disturbed. Therefore example, it could be difficult for the individual (household) being interviewed to grasp what it is that the researcher is asking and similarly the researcher may find it difficult to hear and gauge with the answer provided.

Hard to Acquire the Full Attention of an Individual - it may be difficult to fully engage with an individual (household) as they are on the phone and have little interest in really understanding or even caring for the research, the researcher is committing to. Which could perhaps instead be better engaged in a face to face interview. Which could impact upon the quality, reliability and accuracy of the answers they provide you with.

Summary of Advantages and Disadvantages of Telephone Interviews in Research

The research data collection form of telephone interviewing is perhaps no longer a modern method (as compared to email/web surveys data collection) of carrying out data collection for research nor is it a seemingly popular method among participants (cold calling), however it should still not be ruled on that simple basis. It is still a decent technique to gaining a lot of information, fastly and cheaply. It should be considered a viable option by a researcher and judged within the requirements of that particular study and what weightings (quality, speed, quantity etc.) they place on particular aspects of an upcoming study. If you can think of any other advantages and disadvantages of telephone interviews in research please do add them below.