How To Do Chicago Style Footnote For A Journal Articles Questionnaire Context, Order, and Meaning

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Questionnaire Context, Order, and Meaning

When designing questionnaires, the order of questionnaire items creates a context, or meaning, for the entire questionnaire. Items placed at the beginning of the questionnaire affect how people answer subsequent questions.

“Each item will be interpreted by the respondents in the context of the questionnaire, the previous questions and the wording of each item,” points out Gregory G. Holyk, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, in the Encyclopedia of Survey Research Methods.

To ensure a positive use of context in questionnaires, it is important that you clearly define the purpose of the questionnaire. Begin writing drafts of the items to be included in the questionnaire: items that relate directly to the purpose of the questionnaire. The next step is to put the items into a meaningful format (eg open, multiple choice, etc.) and order them. The order in which items appear can bias people’s thinking and thus their answers to your questions.

After introducing the general purpose and content of the survey, the first question should be simple and non-threatening; set the tone Difficult or sensitive questions are asked later, once the relationship is established.

Elements should flow in a logical order, with similar content grouped together. Providing brief prompts or a transition statement between sections of the questionnaire helps prepare respondents for a change of pace and lets them know that a different mindset is required. It also helps to retain interest and attention.

In what order should the general/specific questions be asked? Some researchers claim that if specific questions are asked first, the attention given to them will influence the answers to general questions. Starting with more specific questions about various aspects of the issues can provide respondents with some background on which to base their answers to subsequent general questions.

Research suggests that the effects of context are more noticeable in attitudinal surveys. A cross-question context effect occurs when the questionnaire contains items on a particular topic, such as health care, and then suddenly switches to an entirely different topic, such as the outcome of a presidential election. A context effect within the question occurs when words frame an issue from an unusual perspective. Example: Holyk proposes that using anti-abortion rather than pro-choice affects attitudes toward abortion. The way the questionnaire items are worded affects the responses and ultimately the results of the surveys.

The response alternatives are the “multiple choice answers” from which the respondents make their selection. When designing the questionnaire, you must decide whether or not it is important for respondents to search their memory and recall an answer or simply to be able to recognize an answer from a list. If you provide a list of these response options or alternatives, be aware that you are making assumptions about the range of opinions or behaviors held by the population under study, or that you are introducing your own bias.

The technique of using jump prompts (ie, if yes, go to question 6; if not, go to question 7) can become confusing and time-consuming, so it should be used sparingly, but only when necessary. Sufficient blank space should be left to record responses to open-ended questions, usually about three lines of space. The page should not be cluttered, as clutter can cause errors when responding.

Considering the effects of context on questionnaire design, the questionnaire should be pre-tested. The wording, format and order of the items should be revised, as necessary, before retesting the questionnaire. A successful questionnaire is one that flows without problems or biases.

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