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

From 1-01-2383

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

From 7-35-3131

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:

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:


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.

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.

From 1-01-1011

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

Marginal notes providing additional information

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

From 3-15-1182


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.


Tweet this page