Undesirable social behavior

With regard to responses that might be felt will meet with disapproval, several strategies have been suggested in the literature. Wilson and McClean (1994) recommend that they can be diffused by the use of categories, or brands, for respondents to tick. In their seminal book on questionnaire design, Sudman and Bradburn (1983) devote a great deal of space to discussing sensitive items. Their practical suggestions to mitigate the undesirable nature of certain behaviors include:

• Wording the question in a way that it suggests that the behavior is rather common (e.g., "Even the most conscientious teachers sometimes... ").

• Assuming the occurrence of the behavior and asking about frequencies or other details rather than whether the behavior has occurred.

• Using authority to justify behavior (e.g., "Many researchers now think... ").

• Adopting a 'casual approach' (e.g., "Didyou happen to... ? ").

• Including reasons that explain the behavior (e.g., "Does your busy schedule sometimes prevent you from...?" or "Have you had time to ... recently?").

Aiken (1997) further suggests that by phrasing the question in a way that it refers to "other people" can encourage truthful responses, and the perceived importance of sensitive questions can also be reduced if they are embedded among other questions dealing with both sensitive and nonsensitive topics.

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