'Am I not answering your questions properly?': Clarification, adequacy and responsiveness in semi-structured telephone and face-to-face interviews

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This article considers spoken interaction in semi-structured qualitative research interviews, comparing those that are conducted by telephone or face-to-face. It draws upon recent empirical research that illuminated some of the differences that may be observed between these two interview modes. Methodological techniques drawn from Conversation Analysis were used to conduct a systematic and transparent comparison of the interview interactions, focusing on the spoken interactional devices that researcher and interviewee employ in order to pursue and maintain a collaborative and comprehensible dialogue.

The article begins with an overview of previous discussion on the interactional effects of the telephone in qualitative interviews. Here, we find that while instructional texts have traditionally advised that the telephone mode is not well-suited to the task of qualitative interviewing - primarily because the lack of face-to-face contact is said to restrict the development of rapport and a 'natural' encounter - researchers giving personal accounts of conducting telephone interviews tend to offer more nuanced or critical reflections on the extent to which the lack of visual cues affects the interaction in practice.

Empirical findings are then presented on: formulation and completion, clarification and comprehension, acknowledgement, interviewees' checks on the 'adequacy' of their talk, and the duration of interviews.

Key findings were that: completion or formulation of interviewee talk by the researcher was more common in face-to-face interviews, interviewee requests for clarification were slightly more common in telephone interviews, vocalized acknowledgements given by the researcher were less frequent in telephone interviews, interviewee checks on the adequacy of their responses were more common in telephone interviews, and telephone interviews tended to be shorter than those conducted face-to-face.

The article discusses possible explanations for the findings that emerge alongside consideration of some potential implications.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-106
Number of pages20
JournalQualitative Research
Issue number1
Early online date5 Apr 2012
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2013


  • research
  • research methodologies
  • qualitative research
  • research interviews
  • telephone interviews
  • face-to-face interviews
  • conversation analysis
  • qualitative interviews

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