Even if respondents are able to answer a particular question, they may be unwilling to do so, either because too much effort is required, the situation or context may not seem appropriate for disclosure. no legitimate purpose or need for the information requested is apparent, or the ,A information requested is sensitive.
Effort Required of the Respondents
Most respondents are unwilling to devote a lot of effort to provide information, Hence, the researcher should minimize the effort required of the respondents. Suppose the researcher is interested in determining from which departments in a store the respondent purchased merchandise on the most recent shopping trip. This information can be obtained in at least two ways, The researcher could ask the respondent to list all the departments from which merchandise was purchased on the most recent shopping trip, or the researcher could provide a list of departments and ask the respondent to check the applicable ones:
In the list that follows, please check all the departments from which you purchased merchandise on your most recent shopping trip to a department store, Please list all the departments from which you purchased merchandise on your most recent shopping trip to a department store. (Incorrect)
The second option is preferable, because it requires less effort from respondents.
Some questions may seem appropriate in certain contexts but not in others, For example, questions about personal hygiene habits may be appropriate when asked in a survey sponsored by the American Medical Association, but not in one sponsored by a fast-food restaurant, Respondents are unwilling to and to questions that they consider inappropriate for the given context. Sometimes, the researcher can manipulate the context in which the questions are asked so that the questions seem appropriate. For example, before asking for information on personal hygiene in a survey for a fast- food restaurant, the context could be manipulated by making the following statement. “As a fast-food restaurant, we are very concerned about providing a clean and hygienic environment for our customers. Therefore, we would like to ask you some questions related to personal hygiene.”
Respondents are also unwilling to divulge information that they do not see as serving a legitimate purpose, Why should a firm marketing cereals want to know their age, income, and occupation? Explaining why the data are needed can make the request for the information seem legitimate and increase the respondents’ willingness to answer, A statement such as, ”To determine how the consumption of cereal and preferences for cereal brands vary among people of different ages, incomes, and occupations, we need information on can make the request for information seem legitimate.
Respondents are unwilling to disclose, at least accurately, sensitive information because this may cause embarrassment or threaten the respondent’s prestige or self-image. If pressed for the answer, respondents may give biased responses, especially during personal interviews (see Chapter 6, Table 6.2).12 Sensitive topics include money, family life, political and religious beliefs, and involvement in accidents or crimes, The techniques described in the following section can be adopted to increase the likelihood of obtaining information that respondents are unwilling to give.
Increasing the Willingness of Respondents
Respondents may be encouraged to provide information that they are unwilling to give by the following techniques.
1. Place sensitive topics at the end of the questionnaire. By then, initial mistrust has been overcome, rapport has been created, the legitimacy of the project has been established, and respondents are more willing to give information.
2. Preface the question with a statement that the behavior of interest is common. For example, before requesting information on credit card debt, say, “Recent studies show that most Americans are in debt.” This technique, called the use of counterbiasing statements, is further illustrated by the following example. 14
Public Versus Private
A recent poll conducted by Gallup sought to obtain information on whether personal information about political candidates or ordinary citizens should be disclosed to the public. This question was prefaced with the following statement; “The question of where to draw the line on the mailer of privacy has been much debated, with some saying that the standards should be different for candidates for important public office than for ordinary citizens.” This statement increased the willingness of the people to respond.
3. Ask the question using the third-person technique, Phrase the question as if it referred to other people.
4. Hide the question in a group of other questions that respondents are willing to answer, The entire list of questions can then be asked quickly.
5. Provide response categories rather than asking for specific figures. Do not ask. “What is your household’s annual income?” Instead. ask the respondent to check the appropriate income category: under $25,000, $25,001-$50,000, $50,001-$75,000, or over $75,000. In personal interviews. give the respondents cards that list the numbered choices. The respondents then indicate their responses by number.
6. Use randomized techniques. In these techniques, respondents are presented with two questions, one sensitive and the other a neutral question with a known probability of a “yes” response (e.g., “Is your birthday in March?”), They are asked to select one question randomly, for example, by flipping a coin. The respondent then answers the selected question “yes” or “no,” without telling the researcher which question is being answered. Given the overall probability of a “yes” response, the probability of selecting the sensitive question, and the probability of a “yes” response to the neutral question, the researcher can determine the probability of a “yes” response to the sensitive question using the law of probability, However, the researcher cannot determine which respondents have
answered “yes” to the sensitive question. 15