Question order within and between subjective well-being modules

Questions on subjective well-being can be affected by previous subjective well-being questions just as easily as by questions on other topics. This has implications for the structure of subjective well-being question modules (particularly where more than one aspect of subjective well-being is addressed), as well as for the presentation of questions within modules and whether it is advisable to include several questions that address very similar topics (see Chapter 2).

In terms of ordering question modules themselves, overall the evidence suggests that moving from the general to the specific may be the best approach. This implies that overall life evaluations should be assessed first, followed by eudaimonic well-being, with more specific questions about recent affective experiences asked next and domain-specific questions last. This is because domain-specific measures in particular risk focusing respondent attention on those domains included in the questions, rather than thinking about their lives and experiences more broadly.

Question order within a battery of questions can also be important - particularly where a group of questions include both positive and negative constructs (such as in the case of affect and some measures of eudaimonia). Although full randomisation of such questions may be optimal, in practice switching between positive and negative items may prove confusing for respondents, who may deal more easily with clusters of questions of the same valence. As discussed in Chapter 2, more evidence is needed to resolve this trade-off, but in the meantime, consistency in the presentation approach (whether randomised or clustered) across all surveys will be important, particularly in terms of whether positive or negative constructs are measured first. In the question modules attached to these guidelines, a clustered approach has been adopted.

Finally, asking two questions about a very similar construct can be confusing for respondents, leading them to provide different answers because they anticipate different answers must be required of them. This means that including several very similar questions about life evaluations, for example, could mean respondents react differently to these questions than when each question is presented in isolation. Thus it is important to have consistency in the number of measures used to assess a given construct, and the order in which those measures are used.

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