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The Open and Closed Question

Howard Schuman and Stanley Presser
American Sociological Review
Vol. 44, No. 5 (Oct., 1979), pp. 692-712
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2094521
Page Count: 21
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The Open and Closed Question
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Abstract

Two quite different reasons for employing open as opposed to closed attitude questions can be distinguished. One is to discover the responses that individuals give spontaneously; the other is to avoid the bias that may result from suggesting responses to individuals. The first goal can be satisfied through careful pretesting, whereas the second requires that open questions be used in the final questionnaire. We examine both goals by means of experiments within large-scale sample surveys. A widely used closed question on Work Values is first compared with a parallel open question, and then the responses to the latter are used to reformulate the closed alternatives in new comparisons. More limited experiments on two other items also are discussed. In all cases there are large and reliable differences between question forms in univariate distributions, and in most cases important differences in bivariate relations also occur. An attempt is made to explain and reconcile both kinds of differences. The evidence suggests that if closed alternatives initially are constructed on the basis of sufficient open responses, then remaining open/closed differences may be due mainly to interviewing and coding problems with open questions, rather than to bias from closed questions.

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