Journal of Official Statistics, Vol.16, No.4, 2000. pp. 419434

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Remembering Heads and Bushels: Cognitive Processes Involved in Agricultural Establishments' Reports of Inventories

Two studies investigated how respondents in an establishment survey answer factual questions requesting inventory data from two ongoing U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service surveys. Verbal protocols indicated that respondents often answered without considering relevant parts of a question. For example, only 14 of 93 ranchers (15%) reported considering all three key, explicitly mentioned pieces of information in answering a question about how many cattle they were bringing to market. Another common error was for respondents to base their answers on what inventory they owned, rather than the inventory located on their operation as of a given date, as asked in the question. This error could lead to double counting and/or omissions. Respondents often reported that they retrieved inventory information directly from memory, and there was only a modest relationship between the size of an operation and whether the respondent reported using direct retrieval or an estimating strategy. Direct retrieval may be the most appropriate strategy for answering questions about quantities at a specific point in time, such as inventory questions, whereas estimating strategies may be more appropriate for answering other types of quantitative questions. Knowledge of the cognitive processes used by establishment respondents to answer inventory questions has prompted changes in methods of asking which should produce more uniform, and potentially more accurate, responding.

Cognitive interview; establishment survey; answer strategies.

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