Welcome to the 5th and final segment of the response process model: reporting.
Encode –> Comprehend –> Retrieve –> Map –> Report
Imagine a respondent has gone through the first four steps: they know about the event in question, understand what is being asked, remember their answer, and know where to put it. All they have to do is report their answer accurately.
But what if they just don’t want to tell the truth?
What if you ask about substance use, junk food consumption, or TV viewing? These are things people tend to underreport.
On the other hand, exercise, religious attendance, voting, and other “socially desirable” behaviors are often overreported.
And when it comes to sexual behaviors and income, expect a large proportion of respondents to refuse to answer—or not to tell the truth (interestingly, studies show that people lie in both directions about these topics).
A few ways to up your chances that respondents will report accurately about these sensitive topics:
1. Use an online methodology. We are more likely to be honest when we’re not talking to a person.
2. Soften questions with a lead-in. “A lot of people have told us that they didn’t vote in the last election, maybe because of work, illness, or transportation problems. What about you? Were you able to vote in the last election?”
3. Consider your scales. As I explain here, people might not want to place themselves in the uppermost category in a question about something not considered “socially desirable,” like alcohol use.