Gridlocked: The impact of adapting survey grids for smartphones

Ashley Richards, Rebecca Powell, Joe Murphy, Mai Nguyen, Shengchao Yu


Paper and web surveys often include grid-style questions formatted to save space and avoid repetition. However, this format is often discouraged by methodologists because of data quality concerns, particularly when respondents are using small screens (e.g., smartphones). In the World Trade Center Health Registry’s Wave 4 survey, we used grids to maintain comparability with prior waves. However, due to the rising number of respondents using smartphones to complete web surveys, we used responsive web design programming to automatically reformat grids into a series of individual items when a small screen device was detected. This method allowed us to retain grids used in previous years, yet address the issue of grids displaying poorly on mobile devices. We compared indicators of data quality (e.g., missing data, straight-lining) across grid formats to see whether the smartphone-optimized version suggests poorer, equal, or better data quality than the traditional grid. We also compared consistency with data collected in previous waves of the survey. We found some evidence that the optimized grid format improved data quality, and the benefits we observed may even suggest that some variant of the mobile-optimized format should be considered for all devices, regardless of screen size.


grid; mobile; smartphone; web survey; responsive design; data quality

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