Aiding Respondent Recall
Researchers should be made aware of the realities
of memory and the many factors affecting it.
In addition, researchers should also take into
consideration that a non-response might be the
result of some other factor besides poor memory or
In most cases, when a question goes unanswered,
the researcher does not know if it is the result of
poor memory recall, poor questionnaire design,
confusion, or simply a decision by the respondent to
skip the question due to the sensitive nature of the
Aiding Respondent Recall
Significant issue for survey questions: the
respondent’s ability to accurately recall past
behavior and events
Recalling events takes more time and effort
The ability to recall accurately declines over
Most respondents can recall significant events
that occurred in the past several week, for
hospitalization and crime victimization studies,
also, half are inaccurate a year later
Memory is less trustworthy than social
scientists once assumed. It is affected by many
•The topic (threatening or social desirable)
•Events occurring simultaneously and
• The significance of an event for a person
•Situational conditions (question wording and
interview style)
•The respondent's need to have internal
Need to customize questions and interpret
results cautiously
Provide respondents with special
instructions and extra thinking time
 The complexity of respondent recall does not mean that
survey researchers can not ask about past events
 rather, they need to customize questions and interpret
results cautiously
 Researchers should provide respondents with
(1) Special instructions and extra thinking time
(2) Provide aids to respondent recall (fixed time frame, location references)
Question: How often did you attend a sporting event last
Better question: I want to know how many sporting events you
attended last winter. Let's go month by month. Think back to
December. Did you attend any sporting events for which you
paid admission in December? Now, think back to January.
Did you attend any sporting events in January?
Mooney and Gramling (1991) asked students twom
types of questions about drinking behavior
Standard questions:
On the average, how many days a month have you had
something to drink?
On the average, how many drinks do you have each of these
Yielded much lower results than asking the same question
about 12 locations (e.g., bar, relative’s home … etc) and
summing the total
Many respondents will telescope compress time
when asked about the frequency and overreport recent events
Two techniques to reduce telescoping
(i) Situational Framing
Ask a respondent to recall a specific situation and ask
them about it
(ii) Decomposition
Ask several specifics and then add them up- such as
how much one drank in a week then total for drinking
in a year

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