Research Reports

You are here: Census.govSubjects A to ZResearch Reports Sorted by Year › Abstract of RSM2007/31
Skip top of page navigation

Using Cognitive Research Methods to Improve the Design of the Decennial Census Form

Theresa J. DeMaio and Nancy A. Bates

KEY WORDS: decennial census; long form; item nonresponse; cognitive testing; think-aloud method


Using a multi-stage approach, the effects of design and question wording on the 1990 census decennial long form on responses were examined. Three methods were used: 1) one-on-one observation and “think-aloud” sessions; 2) experimental group sessions (n = 515) using surveys; and 3) mailout/mailback surveys (n = 5875). With the latter two methods, form design and wording and sequencing of questions varied across versions of the form. Observational session results showed respondents had difficulty navigating the form, as well differentiating between the instructions and the form itself. Experimental group session results showed that the revised form produced a higher rate of understanding of residence rules than the control form, question 1 was often left blank, and location of the coverage question affected item nonresponse. Mailout/mailback survey results showed that the layout of revised forms increased item response rates, item nonresponse rates varied by age, education and race/ethnicity, incorrect data was often entered for the “usual home elsewhere” question, and very few people had trouble with the coverage question.


Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Research Division

Created: August 27, 2007
Last revised: August 27, 2007

[PDF] or PDF denotes a file in Adobe’s Portable Document Format. To view the file, you will need the Adobe® Reader® Off Site available free from Adobe.

This symbol Off Site indicates a link to a non-government web site. Our linking to these sites does not constitute an endorsement of any products, services or the information found on them. Once you link to another site you are subject to the policies of the new site.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Statistical Research Division | (301) 763-3215 (or |   Last Revised: October 08, 2010