CATI stands for Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing. Just as computers have replaced the clip board and questionnaire in face-to-face fieldwork, CATI has replaced traditional telephone interviews.

How CATI works

Interviews carried out by telephone are guided by a questionnaire displayed on the screen of a computer. The interviewer records answers via the keyboard to correspond with the pre-coded responses displayed on the screen.

CATI research has considerable advantages:

  • The interviewer is left free to concentrate on the interview itself as the routing instructions are taken care of
  • Data is entered directly and the subsequent transactions of data processing are eliminated – cost and punching errors are reduced
  • The whole process is speeded up because data is entered as it is obtained
  • At intervals during the survey, the researcher can interrogate the computer to examine the results
  • An analysis of results can be obtained immediately after the last interview has been completed

There are some disadvantages to CATI research. Getting a questionnaire set up and running, fault free, on a CATI system takes time. Coping with open ended responses presents some problems on CATI because, although the systems can accommodate open ended comment, capturing them requires interviewers to have good typing skills. If a respondent makes changes to an earlier answer when part way through the interview, it is more difficult to return and make alterations than is the case with paper questionnaires.

In general, CATI research is best suited to structured interviews carried out in large numbers, especially repeated surveys where all the possible answers have been worked out and can be listed as pre-coded responses.