Over here at #AAPOR, I’ve been overdosing on questionnaire design and data quality papers. What kind of headers should we use, how should we order them, what kind of words should they contain. All of these efforts are made to correct errors such as non-normal distributions, overly positive (or negative) distributions and more.
But dare I ask. Are we really correcting the distributions? Aren’t we more accurately just affecting the distributions?
There are indeed ‘correct’ answers to questions like how many cars do you own and when did you last go to the dentist. But there is no real or true distribution of how happy are you or who do you think you will vote for.
Perceptions in themselves are truth and cannot be validated. There is no correct way to ask these kind of questions. There are only ways of asking questions that give you a distribution of responses that allow you to test your hypothesis. If you need a wide distribution and I need a narrow one, then our question designs will create two truths.
We do need to understand how our word choices and design styles affect responses but please don’t think that your truth is my truth and that your method of correcting your “errors” will fix my questions.