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Words, Numbers and Visual Heuristics in Web Surveys: Is there a Hierarchy of Importance?


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  • Toepoel, V.
  • Dillman, D.A.

    (Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research)

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    In interpreting questions, respondents extract meaning from how the information in a questionnaire is shaped, spaced, and shaded. This makes it important to pay close attention to the arrangement of visual information on a questionnaire. Respondents follow simple heuristics in interpreting the visual features of questions. We carried out five experiments to investigate how the effect of visual heuristics affected the answers to survey questions. We varied verbal, numerical, and other visual cues such as color. In some instances the use of words helps overcome visual layout effects. In at least one instance, a fundamental difference in visual layout (violating the 'left and top means first' heuristic) influenced answers on top of word labels. This suggests that both visual and verbal languages are important. Yet sometimes one can override the other. To reduce the effect of visual cues, it is better to use fully labeled scales in survey questions.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research in its series Discussion Paper with number 2008-92.

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    Date of creation: 2008
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    Handle: RePEc:dgr:kubcen:200892

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    Related research

    Keywords: questionnaire design; layout; visual language; response effects; visual cues;

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    1. Toepoel, V., 2008. "A Closer Look at Web Questionnaire Design," Open Access publications from Tilburg University urn:nbn:nl:ui:12-3130526, Tilburg University.
    2. Toepoel, V. & Das, J.W.M. & Soest, A.H.O. van, 2009. "Design of web questionnaires: The effect of layout in rating scales," Open Access publications from Tilburg University urn:nbn:nl:ui:12-3736476, Tilburg University.
    3. Elisabeth Deutskens & Ko de Ruyter & Martin Wetzels & Paul Oosterveld, 2004. "Response Rate and Response Quality of Internet-Based Surveys: An Experimental Study," Marketing Letters, Springer, vol. 15(1), pages 21-36, 02.
    4. Toepoel, V. & Das, J.W.M. & Soest, A.H.O. van, 2005. "Design of Web Questionnaires: A Test for Number of Items per Screen," Discussion Paper 2005-114, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
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