Best Practices: Rituals and Rhetorical Strategies in the "Initial Telephone Contact

  • Giampietro Gobo Università degli Studi di Milano
Keywords: standardized interview, refusals, survey method, rhetorical strategies


In the social sciences the need to integrate qualitative and quantitative approaches has long been recognized, but research practice rarely meets this need. The best way to achieve such an objective may be to select specific aspects of empirical research where the two approaches can achieve a mutual collaboration. One of these aspects is in dealing with the problem of refusals in survey research. In particular this paper will deal with the "initial telephone contact", a clearly-defined step in the survey research process. This step is crucial because, during the contact, refusals to participate may arise. Refusals are an increasing phenomenon which are particularly threatening to survey research, in that attempts to counter-act their effects can produce serious bias in the statistical inferences that are made and distort the data analysis. The advice reported in survey handbooks in order to manage the initial contact is often unrealistic and contradictory. Further, to reduce the refusal effect, standard texts propose that statistical weights are used. It is argued, however, that these are artificial and often completely arbitrary. For this reason it is important to adhere as much as possible to the random sample design by trying to persuade as many selected respondents to participate as possible. To bring this about, it is important that researchers address attention to the telephone communicative processes between interviewer and respondent, with a view to improving and identifying suitable rhetorical strategies. Based upon the results of his own research the author offers suggestions about how to manage the initial contact and which rhetorical tools to use. Further, he shows how discourse analysis and conversation analysis can improve techniques by accurately identifying strategies the interviewer uses for handling the contact, an important step towards identifying best practice for communicating with respondents. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0101177


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Author Biography

Giampietro Gobo, Università degli Studi di Milano
Giampietro GOBO, senior lecture at the Dept. of Social and Political Studies, Faculty of Political Science, University of Milan, has specialized in qualitative and quantitative methods. He published two methodological handbooks. The former on survey interview (Le risposte e il loro contesto. Processi cognitivi e comunicativi nelle interviste standardizzate, Milano, Angeli, 1997); the latter on the ethnographic methodology (Descrivere il mondo. Teoria e pratica del metodo etnografico, Roma, Carocci, 2001). His current research interests concern in organizational studies, mainly on cooperative interactions in workplace and management. He is co-chair of the Research Network on Qualitative Methods of ESA (European Sociological Association). English articles are: Class: stories of concepts. From ordinary language to scientific language. Social Science Information, 32(3), 1993, 467-89.; Class as metaphor. On the unreflexive transformation of a concept in a object. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 25(4), 1995, 442-67; Review of David Silverman, Doing Qualitative Research. A Practical Handbook, London, Sage, 2000. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 3(6), 170-2.; German articles are: Schlecht informiert, aber nicht gefahrdet AIDS: Metaphern einer Krankheit in den Augen der Jugend. In Carlo Buzzi and Pierangelo Peri (Eds.), Drogen im Alltag der Jugend (pp.149-169). Bozen: Provincia Autonoma di Bozen-Alto Adige, 1990.
How to Cite
Gobo, G. (2001). Best Practices: Rituals and Rhetorical Strategies in the "Initial Telephone Contact. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 2(1).
Different Approaches for Inter-Relating Qualitative and Quantitative Method