Marginal notes from the original 1968/69 questionnaires

At the time of the Townsend 1968-69 Poverty in the UK survey, the questionnaires used were paper-based and came in the form of a survey booklet.  Field interviewers, trained in an ad hoc fashion, would code the interviewee's answers into the various boxes by each question and could make notes amplifying, justifying and explaining their coding decisions. They could also write further notes in the margins, providing additional information.

Below you can scroll through some examples. They provide insights into the attitudes and approach of the interviewer, the feelings and opinions of the interviewee and additional, often very revealing, information on the conditions and circumstances of the household and area. They add to our understanding of life in the late 1960s as well as the research methods used.

For each example, the unique survey questionnaire number is given and by clicking on that number you can go to the pdf of the questionnaire itself. These examples are just a few of the many notes that can be found on the Townsend questionnaires.  The 1968/69 survey questionnaires provides a full archive of all the existing questionnaire booklets which is searchable by the extent of marginal notes, region and interviewer.

Marginal notes evaluating the informant’s claims and character

In some of the notes, the interviewer records their judgments, sometimes very sceptical, as to the reliability of the information they were being given – or not given.

From 6-36-0409

Wanting work

"She 'wants' to get a job but is not really seriously trying I think."

From 1-01-2383

"Strangely enough informant refused to give any details of exactly what his job was. Walter Mitty?"

From 6-36-0239

Marginal note 'sod of an interview' - 6--36-0239

"This was a sod of an interview –
1.    I’m still not clear about the shop, either he evading tax + the police.
2.    If his brother exists, he is fiddling...."

Marginal notes providing quotes and comments from the interviewee

Some of the notes include quotes and comments from the interviewees offering qualitative insights into how people’s lives are affected by their low living standards. Some are very moving.

From 6-36-0329

"Informant: ‘I feel guilty when I eat. I always think it’s Mary’s next dinner I’m eating’"

From 7-35-3131

"When I had 3 children to bring up myself after my divorce what I got to keep them wouldn’t have kept a fly. I had to work at night after looking after them all day to keep them properly fed and that. I reckon women ….."

Marginal notes raising ethical issues

From 4-19-1142

The informant was deaf and the interviewer notes the problems with the interview and then comments:

"It was rather sad, informant had lived alone for two years, sister had died in 1966. Informant kept on crying. On this bright summer evening we sat in front 'parlour' with curtains drawn and lights on, newspapers covered the 'good' chairs. Informant did not really understand why I was there – hoped that perhaps I might manage to get her more money to live on. She would not, however, think of applying for national assistance. I think that something could be done for her…."

From 1-01-1222

The informant lived with her husband, who was ‘in bed with heart trouble’, and daughter, who had had ‘a series of major operations’ and was ‘something of a wreck’. The interviewee comments:

Survey booklet 1-01-1222 short version enlarged

"One of those interviews where, I fear, the slant of our questioning may have crystallized the informant’s despair. A household declining into ill-health and isolation. The house inconvenient with a basement flat for the daughter, & the kitchen below, & lacking amenities. Front room filled with antiques, relics of the grand houses the couple had been servants at. Daughter has a bed-sit..."


Marginal notes on coding decisions

Many of the notes include additional information about the conditions of the household explaining the coding decisions made. The detail provides insights into just how poor some of these living conditions were and the struggles being faced.

From 1-01-1222

This household was coded as not having a bath. This note explains this decision.

Bath 1-01-1222

"Got one but no hot water so can’t use it. Landlord won’t put in hot water. This is serious because the daughter is disabled and ought to be getting hot water bath every day."

This interview has extensive notes throughout and comments at the end on ‘cystalizing’ the respondent’s ‘despair’ (see above).

From 5-25-2222

A note clarifying the kitchen arrangements.

Marginal note on kitchen - 5-25-2222

"kitchen shared with about 30 other people"

From 1-01-1011

A note providing the interviewer's view on the informant's assets.

Marginal note on assets from 1-01-1011

"The interviewee invited, even often prompting, that she would never (?) sell any of their many possessions. The home was laden with saleable goods all in very good condition – the inf. Was also wearing 3 good rings and a good gold watch!"

Marginal notes providing additional information

Other notes provide background context about the area or the interviewees experiences.

From 2-10-1061

"Employees should not discriminate – as they do - against the relatively older man – 45/50. He had experience of this discrimination…"
A newspaper clipping was attached:

From 3-15-1182

Marginal note on dry rot - 3-15-1182

"Interestingly nearly all the houses around here have got dry rot. They were built with unseasoned timber all about the same time."


Further information

The 'Poverty in the UK: Advancing Paradata and open access' research project team’s analysis of the marginal notes on the survey identified an emergent typology of the different kinds of paradata being used by the interviewers. This covered notes that relating to:
  • Amplifications of the codes including calculations on income, benefits etc.;
  • Justifications of coding decisions or lack of coding;
  • Explanations related to the substantive focus and coding;
  • Evaluations of informants’ characters or their claims discussing the individual personality or household characteristics, emotions and material resources;
  • Ethical issues raising issues about how far to pursue an interviewee;
  • Debriefing with comment to the core research team;
  • Standpoint where interviewers commented on the wider political or local context.

This page was authored by Joanna Mack, University of Bristol and The Open University.


Publication date: 
Oct 5 2016