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date: 16 August 2017

Abstract and Keywords

In interpreting survey questions, respondents rely as much on the pragmatics of everyday communication as they do on interpreting syntax or literal meaning. Respondents make inferences about the intended meaning of questions based on a large array of contextual cues, from judgments about the researcher to their sense of how common ground builds up in ordinary conversation and their perception of the actions of interviewers (or automated interviewing systems). How respondents answer questions—the speed and fluency of their answers or requests for clarification—is informative about the accuracy and reliability of their answers. Although survey respondents try to make sense of questions using whatever conversational resources they can bring to bear, researchers are often insensitive to these processes and surprised by their impact.

Keywords: pragmatics, survey, questions, dialogue, conversation, inferences, accuracy, clarification, interviewer, automated system

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