The effect of response categories on questionnaire answers: Context and mode effects

Todd H. Rockwood, Roberta L. Sangster, Don A. Dillman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


This article reports the effect that the ranges presented in answer categories for survey questions can have on respondent answers. Response categories were manipulated in a split-ballot survey conducted in both telephone and mail modes. These categories, presented in the separate ballots, overlapped in one category; the other categories were unique to each ballot. The experiment was conducted on four questions: two frequent and mundane and two rare and salient. It was found that the response categories significantly affected the response for frequent and mundane questions. One question demonstrated a significant difference in response between the mail and telephone modes. For this question, a response scale with a limited number of socially desirable alternatives resulted in a social desirability effect in the telephone mode. Alternatively, the telephone mode demonstrated an extremeness effect when the response scale comprised a greater number of socially desirable alternatives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)118-140
Number of pages23
JournalSociological Methods and Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 1997
Externally publishedYes

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