formatted. Items referenced as [fill …] are automatic fills, such as the reference date, and are filled in by the computer during the administration. The arrows and the “How to Get to This Item” boxes give a quick glimpse at the basic skip sequence governing this section of the questionnaire; the “Yes”/1 answer in the first question causes the jump to the second question on property type; and a response to that question causes a jump to a logical decision point (the lowermost box in Figure I-2), which will suggest a different path if the answer is “Other” than if the respondent gives one of the eight defined property types.

The use of CAPI also brought with it the promise of more accurate survey data. Errors caused by interviewers mistakenly skipping portions of paper questionnaires or by respondents being asked questions not applicable to their particular circumstances could be curbed by effective routing through the instrument. Computerization enables in-line editing and error checking; input values can be checked for accuracy and consistency (e.g., by asking for both age and birthdate and comparing the results); and flags can be raised, prompting the interviewer to solicit corrective information. Moreover, computerized questionnaires can facilitate easier “dependent interviewing” in longitudinal panel surveys, a practice in which answers from a respondent’s questionnaire in a previous administration are used to frame questions on a current survey. Dependent interviewing can jog the memories of respondents in longitudinal surveys and provide for consistency in answers from wave to wave. Finally, data capture in CAPI surveys is automatic; answers need not be transcribed from paper forms or input using technologies like optical scanning.

The benefits of CAPI implementation—along with the experience of many successful conversions to CAPI—have led survey developers to pursue more extensive and complicated computerized questionnaires. The success of CAPI has brought with it a need and desire for added complexity. But the problem with an infinitely customizable instrument is that all the logical components therein—all of the potentially millions of logical paths through an instrument—must flow smoothly, because it is impossible to know ahead of time what specific path a particular respondent’s answers may follow. All behind-the-scenes fills and calculations must operate properly to make sure that the questions are displayed on the screen correctly; all data input by the interviewer must be processed and coded correctly on the data output file to be of any utility. Thus, every computerized survey instrument must be a correctly functioning, error-free piece of software—a goal that is difficult enough for small surveys but greatly compounded by the sheer size and complexity of some of the federal surveys for which CAPI has been implemented.



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