Skip directly to search Skip directly to A to Z list Skip directly to navigation Skip directly to site content Skip directly to page options
CDC Home

Questionnaire Design Research Laboratory

Cognitive Interviewing


Cognitive interviewing is a popular method for evaluating survey questions in the Federal Government. Designed to understand how respondents, comprehend, retrieve, judge, and respond to questions. 


Characteristics of a Cognitive Interview study:

  • Purposive sample selection
  • Typically Small samples: 20-50 respondents
  • Provides rich detail in regards to respondents' thought processes in formulating an answer
  • Data collected are qualitative
  • Qualitative methodologies are used to analyze data


Follow-up questions or cognitive probes are used to examine thought processes.

  • Probes can target specific processes.
    • Comprehension: What do you think 'abdomen' refers to?
    • Recall: How did you remember that?
    • Judgment: How sure are you about that?
    • Response: How did you pick an answer to that?
  • Probes can also be more general and elicit narrative information about respondent's circumstances.
    • Why did you answer that way?
    • How did you come up with your answer?
    • Tell me more about that.


Findings of a Cognitive Interview study:

  • Are based on narrative information about how respondents answered questions. Validity is tied to the amount of rich detail that describes findings.
  • Are grounded in the experiences of the respondents.
  • Provide insight into question interpretation.
  • Provide insight into patterns of calculation.


Analysis of Qualitative Interview Data

  • Simultaneous pursuit of data collection & analysis
  • Constructing analytic codes & themes from data (grounded theory)
  • Make comparisons during each stage of analysis, for example…
    • Explore question response in 1 interview (comprehension; recall; judgment; response)
    • Compare that finding to the next interview (is it the same? If not, how is it different?)


Levels of Analysis in Cognitive Interviewing

Level 1 - Cognitive processing errors (individual response errors)

Level 2 - Patterns of interpretation and process (What the question captures)

Level 3 - Patterned differences in sub-groups (Potential For Bias)





Questionnaire Design Research Laboratory

Contact Us:
  • National Center for Health Statistics
    3311 Toledo Rd, Suite 3216
    Hyattsville, MD 20782
  • The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention   1600 Clifton Road Atlanta, GA 30329-4027, USA
800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) TTY: (888) 232-6348 - Contact CDC–INFO
A-Z Index
  1. A
  2. B
  3. C
  4. D
  5. E
  6. F
  7. G
  8. H
  9. I
  10. J
  11. K
  12. L
  13. M
  14. N
  15. O
  16. P
  17. Q
  18. R
  19. S
  20. T
  21. U
  22. V
  23. W
  24. X
  25. Y
  26. Z
  27. #