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6 November 2007

Book review: Fowler (1995) `` Improving Survey Questions’’

This semester I am taking a hands-on (gasp!) class on the ``Design and Analysis of Sample Surveys’’ with Alan Zaslavsky. The design part of the course includes the basics of writing surveys, and the background reading includes a text by Fowler* which might be interesting to applied-minded readers. Here some thoughts on the book, I’d be curious to hear about alternative views or materials.

Fowler provides a quick and informative reading on how to ask about objective and subjective states, and how to pre-test and validate survey questions and answer categories. The book also discusses the design implications of different survey modes. Most items are particularly informative to novices in this area, and often they provoke a ``d’oh, obviously’’ reaction. But Fowler does a good job at alerting the reader to problematic examples might have slipped by. He also offers some advice on how to fix problems, and provides practical tips for implementing pre-tests which he strongly advocates. The chapters end with a useful summary of the key points which can serve as a reference to items in the chapter.

The book has a few shortcomings though, notably its somewhat confusing organization within the chapters, and lengthy wordings. Since some issues are cutting across chapters, the index ought to list more than 50 keywords to be useful as reference. And, being published in 1995, the book provides no background on web-based or email surveys.

I found that the book offers basic insights and is a useful introduction. It certainly raises awareness about the issues in survey design that users should be aware of. Designers of surveys might find the treatment too basic and general. For a more detailed treatment Krosnick and Fabrigar’s forthcoming ``Handbook of Questionnaire Design’’ looks promising (see here for a post on its presentation at IQSS in 2006).

* Fowler (1995) “Improving Survey Questions: Design and Evaluations.” Sage Publications.

Posted by Sebastian Bauhoff at 12:17 PM

No Applied Statistics Workshop This Week

The applied statistics workshop will take a one week hiatus this week (11/7). But be sure to join us next week (11/14) for Chris Paciorek, Department of Biostatistics, who will present 'Spatial scale and bias in regression models with spatial confounding'.

Hope that you all can make it next week--

Posted by Justin Grimmer at 10:17 AM