Improving Survey Methods With Cognitive Interviews in Small- and Medium-Scale Evaluations

Katherine Ryan, Nora Gannon-Slater, Michael J. Culbertson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Findings derived from self-reported, structured survey questionnaires are commonly used in evaluation and applied research to inform policy-making and program decisions. Although there are a variety of issues related to the quality of survey evidence (e.g., sampling precision), the validity of response processes-how respondents process thoughts and perceptions when answering questionnaires-is crucial. We assess the extent to which cognitive interviews, used to test survey questions as part of the process of questionnaire design and refinement, can strengthen the quality of survey evidence for small- and medium-scale evaluations. To illustrate how cognitive interviews can reveal respondents' response processes and improved questionnaire interpretations, we present excerpts from two types of evaluations (e.g., needs assessment) in two domains (e.g., education). The paper concludes with a brief summary about how the use of cognitive interviews can be augmented in survey development, refinement, and adaptation to improve survey questionnaire interpretations in evaluations with limited resources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)414-430
Number of pages17
JournalAmerican Journal of Evaluation
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2012


  • cognitive aspects of survey methodology
  • cognitive interviews
  • evaluation methodology
  • survey design
  • validity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Social Psychology
  • Health(social science)
  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Strategy and Management


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