Using cognitive interviewing to bridge the intent-interpretation gap for nutrition coverage survey questions in India

Sattvika Ashok, Sunny S. Kim, Rebecca A. Heidkamp, Melinda K. Munos, Purnima Menon, Rasmi Avula

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Designing survey questions that clearly and precisely communicate the question's intent and elicit responses based on the intended interpretation is critical but often undervalued. We used cognitive interviewing to qualitatively assess respondents' interpretation of and responses to questions pertaining to maternal and child nutrition intervention coverage. We conducted interviews to cognitively test 25 survey questions with mothers (N = 21) with children less than 1 year in Madhya Pradesh, India. Each question was followed by probes to capture information on four cognitive stages—comprehension, retrieval, judgement, and response. Data were analysed for common and unique patterns across the survey questions. We identified four types of cognitive challenges: (1) retention of multiple concepts in long questions: difficulty in comprehending and retaining questions with three or more key concepts; (2) temporal confusion: difficulty in conceptualizing recall periods such as “in the last 6 months” as compared to life stages such as pregnancy; (3) interpretation of concepts: mismatch of information being asked, meaning of certain terms and intervention scope; and (4) understanding of technical terms: difficulty in understanding commonly used technical words such as “breastfeeding” and “antenatal care” and requiring use of simple alternative language. Findings from this study will be useful for stakeholders involved in survey design and implementation, especially those conducting large-scale household surveys to measure coverage of essential nutrition interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere13248
JournalMaternal and Child Nutrition
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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