The use of paraphrasing in investigative interviews

Child Abuse Negl. 2010 Aug;34(8):585-92. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2010.01.008. Epub 2010 Jun 11.


Objective: Young children's descriptions of maltreatment are often sparse thus creating the need for techniques that elicit lengthier accounts. One technique that can be used by interviewers in an attempt to increase children's reports is "paraphrasing," or repeating information children have disclosed. Although we currently have a general understanding of how paraphrasing may influence children's reports, we do not have a clear description of how paraphrasing is actually used in the field.

Method: The present study assessed the use of paraphrasing in 125 investigative interviews of allegations of maltreatment of children aged 4-16 years. Interviews were conducted by police officers and social workers. All interviewer prompts were coded into four different categories of paraphrasing. All children's reports were coded for the number of details in response to each paraphrasing statement.

Results: "Expansion paraphrasing" was used significantly more often and elicited significantly more details, while "yes/no paraphrasing" resulted in shorter descriptions from children, compared to other paraphrasing styles. Further, interviewers more often distorted children's words when using yes/no paraphrasing, and children rarely corrected interviewers when they paraphrased inaccurately.

Conclusions and practical implications: Investigative interviewers in this sample frequently used paraphrasing with children of all ages and, though children's responses differed following the various styles of paraphrasing, the effects did not differ by the age of the child. The results suggest that paraphrasing affects the quality of statements by children. Implications for investigative interviewers will be discussed and recommendations offered for easy ways to use paraphrasing to increase the descriptiveness of children's reports of their experiences.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Child Abuse / psychology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Crime Victims / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Crime Victims / psychology
  • Female
  • Forensic Psychiatry / methods*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic / methods*
  • Male
  • Speech
  • Suggestion