Welcome to part 4 of the response process model: mapping.
Encode –> Comprehend –> Retrieve –> Map –> Report
My favorite example of mapping difficulties came when I worked administering a survey to drug addicts about their use. For each drug they had used in the previous week, I asked them to estimate the amount. The answer categories in the survey were expressed in grams (less than a quarter of a gram, between a quarter and half a gram, etc). Yet, most people gave answers like “about $50 worth” or “hundreds of dollars worth.” Since they didn’t know the weight, and I didn’t know the street value of cocaine, we usually ended up at an impasse—and the researchers ended up without usable data.
A less dramatic but very common mistake I see is:
How old are you?
- Under 18
- Over 35
A respondent may be certain that she is 35 years old, but not certain how to answer this question. None of the answer categories “map” to this response. A good rule of thumb is that everyone needs to fit in one and only one category.
When it comes to avoiding mapping difficulties, pre-testing questions is highly recommended; it will quickly become apparent if respondents can’t navigate the answer categories.