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Is a User‐Friendly Diary More Effective? Measuring the Effects on Data Collection

Nhien To and Lucilla Tan


The Consumer Expenditure Diary Survey (CED) is a nationwide survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Its purpose is to collect household expenditures on small frequently purchased items. Beginning in 2000, BLS conducted research leading to the design of a more "user-friendly" diary. The goal of the research was to increase response rates and improve data quality. The research included cognitive testing of several diary prototypes to identify "user-friendly" features (Davis et al., 2002), followed by a field test of the Redesigned Diary. Based on the results of the field test, we added cues to the item entry pages of the Redesigned Diary and retested the diary prototypes with additional cues (To et al., 2004). In January 2005, BLS began to implement the Redesigned Diary in production. This paper assesses the performance of the Redesigned Diary by comparing Redesigned Diary data collected in 2005 with data collected using the old Diary for the same period in 2004. We focus our comparisons on drop off rates and on measurements resulting directly from format changes, so as to isolate effects attributable to form design from time sensitive measurements such as expenditures, which could be biased by changes in economic conditions across the two years. We hypothesize that the "user-friendly" features of the Redesigned Diary will lead to increased response rates, and that they will elicit more complete and detailed recording of entries for better quality data.