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Title The Effect of Phrasing Scale Items in Low-Brow or High-Brow Language on Responses
Year 2009
Access date 05.04.2013

The wording of questions is a crucial problem in questionnaire construction. We posit that the semantic meanings of single words or short statements may differ among respondents, their interpretations and, accordingly, the responses may vary among respondents. This assumption is tested in a representative survey among residents in a deprived area in Cologne, Germany, using a scale on “Perceived Neighbourhood Disorder” introduced by Ross and Mirowski (1999). In the translated German version of the scale, we used a split-half design, varying the phrasing of eight of the eleven items by using (a) low-brow (or everyday) or (b) high-brow (or elaborated) language. Besides testing the assumption that phrasing has an effect, we wished to explore the kind of effect it has on respondents of different socio-economic characteristics such as age and education, and also attitudinal variables. The results support our assumptions: phrasing has an effect, since answers and scale means differ significantly. Results of multivariate analyses suggest that the low-brow language version is the more appropriate way for item wording.

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Year of publication2009
Bibliographic typeJournal article
Full text availabilityAvailable on request