Evaluating Surveys and Questionnaires

Much of what we know about human behavior is based on self-reports. When we want to learn about individuals' health behaviors, consumer habits, family problems, media consumption, values, or political beliefs, we ask appropriate questions. The answers provided to these questions serve as input into scientific analyses and provide the basis of statistical indicators used to describe the state of a society. Obviously, these data are only as meaningful as the questions we ask and the answers we receive. Moreover, whom we ask is of crucial importance to our ability to draw conclusions that extend beyond the particular people who answered our questions. Accordingly, the processes underlying question answering and the appropriate selection of respondents are of great importance to many areas of social research. This chapter provides an introduction to these issues for consumers of published survey results. The first part introduces the concept of a survey, describes elements of survey design, and addresses who to ask. The second part addresses how to ask. It reviews key components of the question-answering process that apply to all self-reports, whether collected in a survey or in the psychological laboratory. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2007 APA, all rights reserved) (from the chapter)