Sensitive Information through Questionnaire

There might often be situations when the question to be asked to the respondent would be embarrassing to the respondent and they have some kind of discomfort in talking about or revealing the data that is required. The added negative impact of this would be that sometimes the respondent may lose interest in the questionnaire overall and may not be willing to respond to the remaining questions as well. Certain topics which fall in the category of sensitive topics could be income, family life, political and religious beliefs and those undesirable habits and desires. There are a number of techniques that are available to bring down the hesitation of the respondents.

One such technique would be to make the statement generic so as to soothe the anxiety of the respondent. This is technically called as counter biasing. The second technique could be to place the seemingly sensitive questions between the neutral questions and to then ask the questions at a rapid speed. Another useful method to effectively deal with sensitive question is to use the third person technique and ask the question as related to other people.

It may be difficult to get answers for certain questions pertaining to socially undesirable habits, like these:

  • Have you ever thrown garbage on the road?
  • Have you ever faked bills to claim reimbursements?

On the other side, in case of habits that are socially undesirable it may be possible procure responses with a third party perspective. The questions could be rephrased as:

  • Do you think there is a certain category of people who throw garbage on the road?
  • Do you associate with people who fake bills to claim reimbursements?

For certain questions that are demographic in nature, like income, age  where there is a possibility of reservation from the end of the respondent in giving the true answer, the researcher must try and use  class intervals instead of ratio scales.

The incorrect way of giving this statement would be:

  • What is your household’s annual income?

The correct way of putting this would be:

  • What is your houshold’s Annual Income?

      Under $ 5,000

     $5000 – $ 10,000

     $10,000 – $ 15,000

    Over $ 15,000

For all stated sensitive issues and others, it is much better to focus on unstructured questions and go in further detail after the comfort level of the respondent has been attained by the researcher/investigator.

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