• The questionnaire (and any other material in the “package” mailed to households, such as a cover letter) must be self-contained and comprehensive enough to guide the respondent through the process of providing complete, accurate answers. (Of course, capacity should still exist for assistance by phone or on the Internet and for requests of census questionnaires in languages other than English, if necessary, but the hope of mailout/mailback techniques is collection of data from the largest number of respondents possible without any direct intervention.)

  • The questionnaire must be designed in such a way that the human reader can easily follow the flow of the questionnaire, but also so that the questionnaire can be scanned electronically for editing and tabulation.

  • The questionnaire should be visually appealing (or, at the very least, not off-putting) in order to maximize respondent interest and willingness.

  • The questionnaire cannot be unduly long in terms of the number of questions. It must satisfy U.S. Office of Management and Budget limitations on respondent burden under the Paperwork Reduction Act; in recent censuses, the length and content of the census long form has drawn particular concern.2

  • For maximum efficiency, the questionnaire must also meet physical size and shape limitations imposed by computer scanning technology. Even though the 2010 census is oriented as a short-form-only census—with the long-form content shifted to the American Community Survey—questionnaire content must also be conducive to the development of computer-assisted versions for follow-up by telephone or (in 2010) hand-held computing device.

  • Census questionnaires must be printed relatively quickly and cheaply, and in massive quantities.

  • Census questionnaires must include space for technical features, such as a block for the mailing address and Master Address File identification number or spaces for enumerators or census clerks to code operational information as needed.

Self-response questionnaires and their properties are a topic of vital research in statistics and survey methodology; indeed, the study of their properties has grown in importance with the availability of new technologies for survey administration such as automated telephone interviews and data collection through questionnaires on the Internet. Methodological work on self-


Most notably, as cited in National Research Council (2004c), the long-form questionnaire was literally thrown back at a Census Bureau director by a congressional appropriator, with the directive to “make it shorter.”

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