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American Association for Public Opinion Research

AAPOR Releases Latest Edition of Standard Definitions

DEERFIELD, IL (April 20, 2015) – The American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) is pleased to announce the release of the Eighth Edition of the Standard Definitions - Final Dispositions of Case Codes and Outcome Rates for Surveys. For a long time, survey researchers have needed more comprehensive and reliable diagnostic tools to understand the components of total survey error.  Some of those components, such as margin of sampling error, are relatively easily calculated and familiar to many who use survey research. 

Defining final disposition codes and calculating call outcome rates is the topic for this booklet.  Often it is assumed — correctly or not — that the lower the response rate, the more question there is about the validity of the sample.  Although response rate information alone is not sufficient for determining how much nonresponse error exists in a survey, or even whether it exists, calculating the rates is a critical first step to understanding the presence of this component of potential survey error.  By knowing the disposition of every element drawn in a survey sample, researchers can assess whether their sample might contain nonresponse error and the potential reasons for that error.

 With this report, AAPOR offers a new tool that can be used as a guide to one important aspect of a survey’s quality.  It is a comprehensive, well-delineated way of describing the final disposition of cases and calculating outcome rates for surveys conducted by telephone, for personal interviews in a sample of households, and for mail surveys of specifically named persons (i.e., a survey in which named persons are the sampled elements). 

AAPOR hopes to accomplish two major changes in survey research practices.  The first is standardizing the codes researchers use to catalogue the dispositions of sampled cases. In addition to building on prior work, this report also addresses recent technological changes.  Survey researchers, especially those who conduct telephone survey research, have had to wrestle with a fast-expanding number of problems that influence response rates.  The burgeoning number of cellular phones and other telecommunications technologies are good examples.  This report takes into account these and other possible developments.  It allows researchers to more precisely calculate outcome rates and use those calculations to directly compare the response rates of different surveys.
This report contains:

  • An updated, detailed and comprehensive set of definitions for the four major types of survey case dispositions: interviews, non-respondents, cases of unknown eligibility, and cases ineligible to be interviewed.
  • Four tables delineating final disposition codes: one for RDD telephone surveys; one for in-person households surveys; one for mail surveys of specifically named persons, and one for Internet surveys of specifically named persons.
  • Operational definitions and formulas for calculating response rates, cooperation rates, refusal rates, and contact rates.
There are many different schemes for classifying the final disposition of cases in a survey. To avoid this babel of survey disposition codes and to allow the comparable reporting of final dispositions and consistent calculation of outcome rates, AAPOR proposes a standardized classification system for final disposition of sample cases, and a series of formulas that use these codes to define and calculate the various rates.

 A detailed report of the final disposition status of all sampled cases in a survey is vital for documenting a survey’s performance and determining various outcome rates. Such a record is as important as detailed business ledgers are to a bank or business. In recognition of this premise, the reports on the final disposition of cases are often referred to as accounting tables. They are as essential to a well-documented survey as the former are to a well-organized business.

Read more about the Standard Definitions and read the full publication.
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The American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) is the leading professional organization of public opinion and survey research professionals in the U.S., with members from academia, media, government, the non-profit sector and private industry. AAPOR members embrace the principle that public opinion research is essential to a healthy democracy, providing information crucial to informed policymaking and giving voice to the nation's beliefs, attitudes and desires. It promotes a better public understanding of this role, as well as the sound and ethical conduct and use of public opinion research. www.aapor.org