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Advancements in Cross-Cultural and Multilingual Questionnaire Design and Pretesting

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Several U.S. Census Bureau employees with the Center for Survey Measurement’s Language and Cross-Cultural Research Group will be presenting in a special panel at the American Association for Public Opinion Research conference in Austin, Texas, this May. The panel is called “Advancements in Cross-Cultural and Multilingual Questionnaire Design and Pretesting” and includes five papers that describe research conducted as a part of a large language research contract in 2015-2016. The Center for Survey Measurement supported and collaborated with the Decennial Language Team on the work that led to this panel. We also collaborated with contractors from RTI International and Research Support Services.

The panel will be of interest to methodologists and practitioners who would like to improve measurement comparability across languages, to design linguistically and culturally appropriate instruments and to encourage participation in Census Bureau surveys among non-English speakers. The larger 2015 language contract was designed to pretest the 2020 Census test questionnaires and the materials used to encourage participation in the census. Our panel will focus on research that was found in the larger pretesting studies.

The research was conducted using English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Russian and Arabic forms and materials and focused on three data collection modes: via the internet, by visits from an enumerator and by the self-administered paper format. A total of 384 respondents participated in cognitive and usability interviews and around 300 participated in focus groups over the year and a half long project.

One example of how the Census Bureau has adapted questionnaires and other survey materials to facilitate the participation of different language speakers comes from the Sha et al. study to be presented in this panel. In English we write from left to right, therefore it is useful for data capture purposes to provide a separate box for each letter. In Arabic, however, writing goes from right to left and letters in a word are connected, similar to cursive writing in English. Therefore, in order to be culturally and linguistically appropriate, the last name box on Census Bureau forms needs to be written as seen below if Arabic language names are collected.



Another example comes from the Hsieh et al. paper to be presented in this panel. This paper discusses the testing of a draft internet “landing page,” or the first page that users might visit on the Census Bureau website. Hsieh et al. found that using tabs in addition to drop-down menus on a page of this sort can help Asian, non-English speakers to choose their preferred language and facilitate their participation. The language tabs at the top of the draft page were very appealing to test respondents, as Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese speakers tended to click the tab of their native tongue to seek materials presented in their languages. Furthermore, even non-English speakers whose language was not shown liked seeing the different language options and received the message that multilingual support is available.

The panelists (listed below) will discuss the following:

  • Overview of the methods and the results of the multilingual and multimode research (Goerman, Park & Kenward).
  • Optimizing the visual design and usability of government information to facilitate access by Asian, non-English speakers (Hsieh, Sha, Park & Goerman).
  • Visual questionnaire design of Arabic language survey forms (Sha & Meyers).
  • Russian immigrants’ interpretation and understanding of survey questions (Schoua-Glusberg, Kenward & Morales).
  • Evaluation of the appropriateness of utilizing vignettes in cross-cultural survey research (Meyers, Garcia Trejo, Lykke & Holliday).

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