Does This Survey Make Sense?
12/22/16 / Mollie Boettcher
It’s pretty common for Corona to combine qualitative and quantitative research in a lot of our projects. We will often use qualitative work to inform what we need to ask about in qualitative phases of the research, or use qualitative research to better understand the nuances of what we learned in the quantitative phase. But did you know that we can also use qualitative research to help design quantitative research instruments through something called cognitive testing?
The process of cognitive testing is actually pretty simple, and we treat it a lot like a one-on-one interview. To start, we recruit a random sample of participants who would fit the target demographic for the survey. Then, we meet with the participants one-on-one and have them go through the process of taking the survey. We then walk through the survey with them and ask specific follow-up questions to learn how they are interpreting the questions and find out if there is anything confusing or unclear about the questions.
In a nutshell, the purpose of cognitive testing is to understand how respondents interpret survey questions and to ultimately write better survey questions. Cognitive testing can be an effective tool for any survey, but is particularly important for surveys on topics that are complicated or controversial, or when the survey is distributed to a wide and diverse audience. For example, you may learn through cognitive testing that the terminology you use internally to describe your services are not widely used or understood by the community. In that case, we will need to simplify the language that we are using in the survey. Or, you may find that the questions you are asking are too specific for most people to know how to answer, in which case the survey may need to ask higher-level questions or include a “Don’t Know” response option on many questions. It’s also always good to make sure that the survey questions don’t seem leading or biased in any way, particularly when asking about sensitive or controversial topics.
Not only does cognitive testing allow us to write better survey questions, but it can also help with analysis. If we have an idea of how people are interpreting our questions, we have a deeper level of understanding of what the survey results mean. Of course, our goal is to always provide our clients with the most meaningful insights possible, and cognitive testing is just one of the many ways we work to deliver on that promise.