Skip to main content

Please enter a keyword and click the arrow to search the site

It’s not me, it’s you: miscomprehension in surveys


Organizational Research Methods


Organisational Behaviour

Authors / Editors

Hardy B;Ford L R


Publication Year



The ubiquity of surveys in organizational research means that their quality is of paramount importance. Commonly this has been addressed through the use of sophisticated statistical approaches with scant attention paid to item comprehension. Linguistic theory suggests that while everyone may understand an item, they may comprehend it in different ways. We explore this in two studies in which we administered three published scales and asked respondents to indicate what they believed the items meant, and a third study that replicated the results with an additional scale. These demonstrate three forms of miscomprehension: instructional (where instructions are not followed), sentential (where the syntax of a sentence is enriched or depleted as it is interpreted), and lexical (where different meanings of words are deployed). These differences in comprehension are not appreciable using conventional statistical analyses yet can produce significantly different results and cause respondents to tap into different concepts. These results suggest that item interpretation is a significant source of error, which has been hitherto neglected in the organizational literature. We suggest remedies and directions for future research.

Available on ECCH


Select up to 4 programmes to compare

Select one more to compare
subscribe_image_desktop 5949B9BFE33243D782D1C7A17E3345D0

Sign up to receive our latest news and business thinking direct to your inbox


Sign up to receive our latest course information and business thinking

Leave your details above if you would like to receive emails containing the latest thought leadership, invitations to events and news about courses that could enhance your career. If you would prefer not to receive our emails, you can still access the case study by clicking the button below. You can opt-out of receiving our emails at any time by visiting: or by unsubscribing through the link provided in our emails. View our Privacy Policy for more information on your rights.