Probing for sensitivity in translated survey questions: Differences in respondent feedback across cognitive probe types

Zeina Nazih Mneimneh, Kristen Cibelli Hibben, Lisa Bilal, Sanaa Hyder, Mona Shahab, Abdulrahman Binmuammar, Yasmin Altwaijri


One of the core components of the TRAPD (Translation, Review, Adjudication, Pretesting and Documentation) team approach to translation in survey research is pretesting. Cognitive interviewing is increasingly being used for pretesting survey questionnaires adapted to different populations. Exploring the issue of question sensitivity is particularly relevant when adapting a questionnaire to a population different than the one for which it was designed. However, little guidance exists on the use of cognitive interviewing, and specifically, the types of verbal probes, to elicit respondent feedback on question sensitivity. In preparation for the Saudi National Mental Health Survey, cognitive interviewing was carried out to pretest the Arabic version of the World Mental Health survey instrument (CIDI 3.0). Different types of cognitive probes: proactive direct, proactive indirect and general probes were randomly assigned to survey questions to investigate differences in the feedback elicited by each type of probe. Findings suggest that different types of cognitive probes that are designed to explore perceived sensitivity of the survey questions elicit different amounts and types of feedback. An indirect cognitive probe identified a topic to be sensitive in more instances than a direct probe or a general probe.  A general probe, on the other hand, elicited more non-codable feedback especially when paired with a survey question that asks about a more abstract concept such as the respondent’s feelings.



Translation, pre-testing, sensitive questions, cognitive interviewing

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