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This week I’m continuing my series depicting Tourangeau, Rips, and Rasinski’s response process model in action.

Encode -> Comprehend -> Retrieve -> Map -> Report

Last week I wrote about encoding: people can’t answer a question about an event unless they know that it happened. Once we’re sure that respondents know what they’ve experienced, we need to be sure that they know what the question means. Here are some unnecessarily hard-to-comprehend questions I have seen:

  • Were you seen on an inpatient or an outpatient basis? (Why not just ask “Did you spend the night in the hospital?”)
  • Do you have term or permanent life insurance? (A simple question, but probably needs definitions attached to both of these options.)
  • Please indicate the number of your patients with an HIV diagnosis who had at least one HIV medical care visit in each 6 month period of the 24 month measurement period, with a minimum of 60 days between the first medical visit in the prior 6 month period and the last medical visit in the subsequent 6 month period.  (I had to read this five times to understand what they wanted to know.)

The best advice I can offer on getting respondents to understand a question is KISS: Keep it simple and short.This can be hard for clients, who are often so embedded in the topic they are asking questions about that they forget that their audience doesn’t always have the same level of involvement or understanding in this area that they do. It’s also another example of why pre-testing to see how respondents understand your questions is so important.