Comparison of Open and Closed Questionnaire Formats in Obtaining Demographic Information From Canadian General Internists
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The objective of this study was to compare the impact of closed- versus open-ended question formats on the completeness and accuracy of demographic data collected in a mailed survey questionnaire. We surveyed general internists in five Canadian provinces to determine their career satisfaction. We randomized respondents to receive versions of the questionnaire in which 16 demographic questions were presented in a closed-ended or open-ended format. Two questions required respondents to make a relatively simple computation (ensuring that three or four categories of response added to 100%). The response rate was 1007/1192 physicians (80.0%). The proportion of respondents with no missing data for all 16 questions was 44.7% for open-ended and 67.0% for closed-ended formats (P < 0.001). The odds of having missing items remained higher for open-ended response options after adjusting for a number of respondent characteristics (2.67, 95% confidence interval 2.01 to 3.55). For the two questions requiring computations focused on professional activity and income, there were more missing data (P = 0.02, 0.02, respectively) but fewer inaccurate responses (P = 0.009, 0.20, respectively) for the open-ended compared to the closed-ended format. Investigators can achieve higher response rates for demographic items using closed format response options, but at the risk of increasing inaccuracy in response to questions requiring computation.
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