Quality & Quantity (2006) 40:245–258 © Springer 2006
Effective Repair in Survey Interviews
JOHANNES VAN DER ZOUWEN
and JOHANNES H. SMIT
Faculty of Social Sciences;
Faculty of Medicine, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Abstract. In standardized survey interviews with closed-ended questions it quite often occurs
that respondents do something else than mentioning their choice from the set of response
categories presented together with the question. In these cases their initial response is inad-
equate and interviewers have to initiate repair activities.
By analyzing 804 question–answer sequences, stemming from parts of a survey with elderly
people (N = 201), we found that 322 (41%) of the initial responses were inadequate. In 74%
of these 332 sequences the interviewers made an attempt at repair. Of all repair attempts,
75% were performed correctly, that is, in a nondirective way. Most of the repair attempts
(86%) result in an adequate ﬁnal response of the respondent. The result of the repair activi-
ties by the interviewers is that the number of sequences with an adequate response increased
from 472 to 688, thus an increase of about 45%.
There does not exist ‘one best way’ of repairing. The most important thing is that some
repair initiative has to be taken by the interviewer and that the repair is done in a nondi-
Key words: interviewer behavior, closed question, adequacy of response, mismatch answers,
In spite of the increasingly high costs of interviewer administered question-
naires and the rapid development of self-administered (electronic) alterna-
tives, telephone and face-to-face interviews are sometimes the only, or at
least the best, solution for the researcher to collect data about complex
phenomena, or from difﬁcult to reach subjects.
An efﬁcient way to collect relevant and complete information in sur-
veys is the use of standardized closed questions in the questionnaire. Here
not only the wording of the question is standardized, but also the set of
response alternatives to be presented by the interviewer.
Ideally, the respondent only mentions his
choice of the set of pre-
sented response alternatives, whereupon the interviewer can proceed to the
Prof Johannes van der Zouwen, Department of Social Research Methodology, Faculty
of Social Sciences, Vrije Universiteit, De Boelelaan 1081, 1081 HV, The Netherlands.