Paper and pencil interviewing collect data from respondents using paper and pencil rather than digital devices. It’s typically used for research purposes, including market research, social research, and academic research.

Although collecting information with paper and pencil is no longer as common and is considered outdated, it still has advantages. It enables you to reach survey target audiences in remote locations and improves response rates by allowing you to guide participants in person.

What is Paper-and-Pencil Interviewing?

Paper-and-Pencil Interviewing (PAPI) is a traditional method of data collection that involves handing out a questionnaire to respondents with a pencil and paper. It’s most usually used to collect information from a large number of respondents for research purposes.

In most cases, PAPI employs professional interviewers who effectively communicate with respondents so they express their opinions without bias. It helps get clear and in-depth responses from participants.

The interview starts by printing out a series of questions and having respondents fill out the answers on paper. After administering the physical questionnaire the next step is to collate the data and transcribe it into digital format for analysis.

Although PAPI makes data collection straightforward, it has some limitations. For example, data entry personnel could make mistakes in transcribing the data, and respondents may provide untrustworthy or incomplete answers to gain favor with the interviewer.

Advantages Paper-and-Pencil Interviewing

One of the main strengths of paper-and-pencil interviews is that they produce significantly higher response rates than online questionnaires. Here are some other benefits:

  • Cost-Effective

The only resource you need for pencil-and-paper interviews is the questionnaires (paper) and a pencil. So it makes it a cost-effective method to collect data from respondents if you’re on a budget.

Unlike online surveys, you do not have to pay for an internet connection. You can easily gather the information offline, compile it into a spreadsheet, and upload it online.

  • Wide Reach

PAPI is a straightforward data collection method that requires no special skills or technology, making it accessible to many respondents. This makes it an effective method for large sample-size studies.

You can also administer it to people in a variety of settings, such as their homes, workplaces, schools, and public places, allowing you to reach people no matter where they are.

  • Easy to Administer

PAPI is a simple data collection method that allows researchers to administer questionnaires to respondents with little to no complication.

Its survey design is flexible and requires little technical knowledge to implement. You don’t need any special data entry skills to create or collate paper-and-pencil interviewing surveys.

  • Easy Data Analysis

When using PAPI researchers don’t have to use complex systems to analyze the collected data. They can also store data and visualize it using simple statistical software such as Google Sheets or Excel.

  • Control Over Question Sequence

PAPI gives researchers control over the order in which questions are asked, which can help determine cause-and-effect relationships. Interviewers can ask for context on respondents’ answers which helps gather more in-depth information. 

  • High Flexibility

You can also easily modify the questionnaire, making it a flexible method of data collection. It is a low-cost method of data collection, making it an excellent choice for reaching a large number of respondents without breaking the bank.

It is suitable for small data collection projects where the survey can be modified and updated regularly. This is because small-scale changes are simple to implement.

  • Respondents Data Protection

One major concern that most respondents have with online surveys and interviews is how easily their personal information can fall into the wrong hands or be mismanaged. So, respondents may submit responses that aren’t truly their opinions to appear politically or culturally correct.

However, most respondents believe that in-person interviews are more private than online polls. As a result, they may be more forthcoming in paper and pencil surveys.

Disadvantages of Paper-and-Pencil Interviewing

A major disadvantage of paper and pencil interviews is that it’s capital intensive, especially if you’re surveying on a large scale. Here are some other drawbacks:

  • Logic Jumps

Adding conditional logic on paper and pencil interviews isn’t the smoothest experience. Unlike online interviews, you can’t just add conditional logic that will determine the question respondents see based on their last response.

Sure, you can direct respondents to skip a section of a paper questionnaire based on their previous responses, but it’s not as user-friendly. With online surveys, respondents don’t have to manually skip the sections, the survey software does that for them.

  • Time-Consuming

Another drawback of paper and pencil interviews is that they are time-consuming and require a lot of manual work.

The data entry professional has to manually enter and transcribe the results. This increases the time it takes to collate the data and increases the likelihood of errors when there is a large amount of data.

Researchers also have to manually assess which responses are invalid and exclude them from the data. The process of reviewing the data, especially large data takes time and requires precision to avoid bias in the data analysis.

  • Low Response Rates

Although PAPI allows you to reach more participants because you get to meet them in person, the response rate can still be very low. A major reason for this is that most paper and pencil interviews distribute the questionnaire to participants and expect them to return the questionnaire to you.

Sometimes respondents do not return the distributed questionnaire, for one reason or another. For example, they could have forgotten about it, or need clarification on something.

However, when using a survey platform, you can send reminders to respondents about their unfinished surveys, lowering the rate of incomplete surveys.

Read: Survey Response Rate: The Ultimate Guide

  • Data Verification Errors

Another significant disadvantage of PAPI is the high likelihood of human error. So it’s not a reliable method of collecting and analyzing data; you’d have to conduct a thorough review of your data, which wouldn’t be necessary if you had a platform that did it for you.

Also, transcribing data from paper to digital requires a lot of hard work, and precision, without absolute thoroughness, there’s a high chance of there being an error in the data.

  • Limited Question Types

When using paper and pencil interviews, it’s a bit difficult to include advanced question types because you have to fit your question on the paper and consider how they look to the audience.

In contrast to digital surveys, which allow you to use multimedia to provide content, you cannot use limited methods to provide context for your questions. Using multimedia allows you to provide respondents with a clear understanding of the question being asked, allowing you to elicit more informed responses.

  • Survey Bias

Using paper and pencil can potentially introduce bias into the study for several reasons. One of the most common is that you only have access to respondents you can physically reach, who may not be representative of the population you’re studying.

Read More: Research Bias: Definition, Types + Examples

  • No Follow-Up

When using paper and pencil interviews, researchers find it difficult to contact respondents for follow-up questions or to clarify their submissions. They will have to rely on digital devices, such as phone interviews or online surveys, to continue the research.

In cases where the respondents are not random and researchers can return for follow-up. It’s still time-consuming to ask respondents one after the other to clarify their submissions.

What to Use the Pen & Paper Interview in Practice For?

  • Market Research

You can use paper and pencil interviews to collect data on user preferences and behavior, such as product usage and brand loyalty. Then, use the data to understand your customers’ experiences with your brand and how you can improve it.

For example, you can use a paper-and-pencil questionnaire to understand how customers who walk into your store see your brand. You can also use it to figure out if customers are likely to recommend your products to their friends and family.

  • Social Research

Pen and pencil interviews are also helpful in collecting data about social attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. For example, you can use it to collect data about a population’s political opinion such as pre-election polls or how they view the candidates.

PAPI can also be used to anonymously gather people’s opinions on controversial topics such as income inequality, race, and gender discrimination.

  • Academic Research

Paper and pencil interviews are also used in academic fields such as psychology, sociology, and education. For example, a psychologist can use paper and pencil interviews to investigate the relationship between stress and academic performance.

As an academic researcher, you can also use Paper-and-Pencil Interviewing (PAPI) to investigate student learning outcomes in a specific subject or topic. You can accomplish this by distributing the questionnaire to a sample of students and asking questions about their knowledge and understanding of the subject or topic.

Another good example is using Paper-and-Pencil Interviewing (PAPI) to investigate teacher attitudes toward technology integration in the classroom. To accomplish this, distribute a questionnaire to a sample of teachers and ask them questions about their beliefs, experiences, and practices regarding the use of technology in their classrooms.

  • Health Research

As a health researcher, you could use Paper-and-Pencil Interviewing (PAPI) to study people’s perceptions of mental health as well as their health behaviors and habits. Simply distribute a questionnaire asking people about their health behaviors and habits to study these behaviors and habits.

PAPI can also be used to collect information about health behaviors and attitudes such as diet, exercise habits, and health beliefs. A good example is distributing a questionnaire to pre-diabetic people about the measures they’ve taken to prevent diabetes.


Paper and pencil interviews have some benefits over using online questionnaires, but it also has significant disadvantages including limited question types, data entry error, survey bias, and more. As a result, it’s mostly suitable for research with simple questions, and a very specific sample size.

Using online questionnaires, on the other hand, allows you to reach more people all over the world and quickly analyze the data gathered to draw valid conclusions. You also have more control over how questions appear to respondents.

  • Moradeke Owa
  • on 8 min read


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