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Does the order of the items in a questionnaire matter? If so, how do I know which item should go first, second, third etc. when devising a questionnaire?

Thanks

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  • $\begingroup$ Very broad question, unfortunately. Some research shows that item order does not matter very much (e.g., Likert scale items assessing anxiety). $\endgroup$ – Behacad Mar 17 '14 at 5:32
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Order certainly can matter. As a simple example, suppose I have two items on my questionnaire, which I could give in two different orders.

(a) Rate your happiness (Very Unhappy, Unhappy, Neutral, Happy, Very Happy)

(b) Are you in a relationship with another person (Yes, No)

If I ask question (b) first, it will likely influence the answer to question (a).

Based on the information provided, it is difficult to provide an answer to "which item should go first, second, third, etc." but here is a link to some general guidelines for question order:

http://www.people-press.org/methodology/questionnaire-design/question-order/

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It depends on the nature of the questionnaire. For instance, I've read that the first few items in lists that participants rank (e.g., from most to least favorite/true/important/etc.) tend to be ranked higher, presumably due to serial position effects. However, I'm not sure where I read that, and in searching for the reference, I instead found a contradictory result regarding Rokeach's Value Survey, which is a ranking-based assessment. Greenstein and Bennett (1974) randomized item ordering, and reported:

The amount of bias created by presentation order was sufficiently small as to suggest that order effects are not a problem in the instrument.

Of course, other questionnaires may be much more sensitive, but no one general answer applies. Randomization of presentation order across participants is a good way to balance any bias for nomothetic research though.


Reference
Greenstein, T., & Bennett, R. R. (1974). Order effects in Rokeach's Value Survey. Journal of Research in Personality, 8(4), 393–396.

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