Generalization

A common problem in question wording is the use of generalizations such as 'On average, how often do you buy sweets in a week?' Unless the relevant behaviour is extremely regular, this question is likely to produce bad data, since the respondent is asked to generalize about behaviour. What they are really being asked to do is to calculate their frequency of sweet buying over the last year and compute the arithmetic average per week: a patently unreasonable and probably impossible request. They will either respond using last week's behaviour, or pluck some hypothetical figure out of the air. It would be better to ask, 'On how many occasions have you bought sweets during the past week?' An average frequency of purchase can then be calculated from the spread of data generated by the sample.

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