Survey source and introductory text

The issue

A final potential source of context effects comes from the survey source itself, and what respondents may - either implicitly or explicitly - infer from this about how they should answer questions. Introductions and framings have an impact on how respondents understand the objectives of the survey. Norenzayan and Schwarz (1999) and Smith, Schwarz, Roberts and Ubel (2006) argue that participants, as co-operative communicators, will try to render their responses relevant to the surveyor’s assumed goals and interests (following the conversational principle that information provided to a listener should be relevant, Grice, 1975). A less benign interpretation is that survey design can induce experimental demand effects - i.e. where the surveyor’s a priori hypotheses about the nature of relationships between variables, and/or the respondents’ views on those relationships, may influence the pattern of responses. Finally, it is possible that respondents may have reason to present themselves or their experiences in a positive light (socially desirable responding) or use survey responses to communicate a specific message to the surveyor.

If the survey source affects the manner in which respondents answer questions, this could have implications for data comparability, particularly between official and non-official surveys. International differences in how statistical surveys are conducted could also affect comparability. The way a survey or question module is introduced can also play a key part in motivating respondents - and it will therefore be important to do this in a uniform manner.

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