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Response categories are developed for questions in order to facilitate the process of coding and analysis. Many studies have looked at the effects of presenting a "don't know" option in attitudinal questions. The "don't know" option allows respondents to state that they have no opinion or have not thought about a particular issue.

The physical placement of the "undecided" category (at the midpoint of the scale, or separated from the scale) can change response patterns. Respondents are more likely to choose the "undecided" category when it was off to the side of the scale. There are also different response patterns depending on whether the midpoint is labeled "undecided" or "neutral".

Several researchers have found that the physical location of the middle alternative can make a difference in responses, and that placing the middle option at the last position in the question increases the percentage of respondents who select it by over 9 percent. Frequently, offering respondents a middle alternative in a survey question will make a difference in the conclusions that would be drawn from the data. The middle option of an attitudinal scale attracts a substantial number of respondents who might be unsure of their opinion.

Researcher have also studied the "don't know" option for factual questions. Unlike attitude questions, respondents might legitimately not know the answer to a factual question. Surprisingly, the research suggests that the "don't know" option should not be included in factual questions. Questions that exclude the "don't know" option produce a greater volume of accurate data. Furthermore, there is generally no difference in response rate depending on the inclusion or exclusion of the "don't know" option. There is still a controversy surrounding the "don't know" response category. Many researchers advocate including a "don't know" response category when there is any possibility that the respondent may not know the answer to a question. The best advice is probably to use a "don't know" option for factual questions, but not for attitude questions.

 

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