Thursday, February 19, 1998 at 14:33:08

I found this site enjoyable reading.

I work for a Social Science Research firms that do face-to-face and telephone interviewing with Respondants. The technique is non-directive questioning.

Lots of time we have pauses from Respondants, both filled and unfilled. They are usually predictable and recognizable.    Usually I had attributed them to the respondant not knowing what to say and tying to 'buy time'; and usually would think that the respondant would be able to announciate the thought.  Such though is theoretical on my part and usually doesn't come true. Either that, or the respondant, really doesn't know what to say and uses pauses to buy time and doesn't buy enough time.

- MH

I'm very curious to know what you mean when you say your respondents' filled pauses are predictable.  Under what conditions/situations do you find them predictable?   How do you interpret them?  What is your subsequent response? Is it effective?   My research suggests a variety of possible communicative uses such as trying to sound like one is more knowledgeable (though has temporarily forgotten it...), or even on occasion when one is very knowledgeable but would rather not embarass the other party by throwing around a lot of five-dollar words and therefore utters a pause (or even a 'you know').  Might either of these be the conditions under which some of your respondents use filled pauses?

The type of research in which I am involved is social science. As a trained interviewer, my responses to respondants are negligible or non-existent and I must be non-directive, which means anything that I say cannot influence the direction in which the respondant was/is going to respond.   This is the method for obtaining information in an unbiased fashion.

Therefore, when a respondant hesitates when a question is asked, the hesitation may be followed by a 'you know', or 'for instance' or 'um, you know'.  When I say the responses are predictable, it is because I believe the following verbiage is usually not in sequence to the thought - the person is trying to say something and just isnt getting it out in the correct sequence. For instance: I may ask a question such as: "would you receive an animal organ for transplant if you were about to die?" The respondant would perhaps pause; but most likely, the respondant would say  something  like "well, um, you know, if, um, well, if my life depended on it, I guess maybe I would but I am not sure" Lots of filled pauses. I think this happens when the respondant really doesn't know how/what to answer the question.

In the above example I could probe by asking "how do you mean?" "tell me more" simply repeating the question,  or stating the purpose of the question   and seeing what I get the second time the question is asked. It would be a judgement call on my part which probe I would use.  Some will get you an answer quicker than others, depending upon the circumstances, the feeling that I have for the intelligence of the Respondant, or which probe clearly seems the superior probe to use, depending upon the purpose of the question.

(If the questions that I am asking is trying to receive a yes/no answer (for statistical analysis), then I would be required to probe and try to get the respondant into yes/no.)

A question as cited above, would give most people reason to pause. The fact that the pause is filled, is ??????? But my belief is, that the question deserves a pause.

Right now I am scheduled to be at a briefing of a new study in which I am interviewing high school seniors about where their life has been, where it is now and where they expect it to go. I believe that the probes most often used in this age group, will be very different than those used for the subjects with whom I am talking about organ transplantation.

I'm not surprised to hear of a discourse structure as you describe (inital inquiry -> indecisive response -> probe(s) -> decisive response) where the subject's early responses are hesitant.  I'm sure I would be the same if you interviewed me. I think it would be accurate to presume that their early hesitations are due to a need to prepare mentally their response.  However, there may be a slightly different explanation for their pauses.  There is some evidence to suggest that there is a correlation between task difficulty and pause rate as well as between situational anxiety and pause rate.  If the questions are relatively difficult (as the organ transplant question would be if, say, given out of the blue) a subject might be inclined to pause more.  Or similarly if the situation is seen by the subject as stressful (a total stranger asking a very personal question) the pause rate may increase as the subject makes decisions regarding not only the question but also the interpersonal context ("Can I reveal to this person what I really believe?").

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