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Results & Recommendations from Cognitive Interviews with Selected Materials Accompanying the American Community Survey

Ashley Landreth

KEY WORDS: pretesting, advance letter, demographic surveys, ACS, cognitive interviews


Staff conducted cognitive testing of materials mailed to American Community Survey respondents under voluntary and mandatory response conditions. Three different versions of the materials were developed and tested: 1) explicit, highly visible statements that response to the survey is voluntary; 2) implicit, lower profile statements that response to the survey is voluntary; and 3) statements that response to the survey is mandatory.

The prenotice letter, the letter that accompanies the initial questionnaire mailout, and the brochure containing Frequently Asked Questions about the survey were tested. This report contains the results of this testing. Results showed that the most salient piece of information contained in the letters was the data use statements. While these were viewed positively for the most part, they conveyed to respondents that the survey was about local communities. Without a questionnaire as a reference, respondents thought the survey would not contain personal questions, and would ask questions to determine the quality, frequency, etc., of their local community services. Some respondents to the mandatory letter did not understand that the survey was mandatory. Regardless of whether respondents received the voluntary or mandatory letter, they tended to think their own perceptions about the survey would be a larger determinant in their decision to participate than the legal requirements. This report also includes recommendations for revising the letters based on these results.

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

Created: 08-JUL-2003

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