Sociology, Department of


Document Type


Date of this Version



Published in International Journal of Market Research (2020)

DOI: 10.1177/1470785320971592


Copyright © 2020 Jerry Timbrook, Jolene D Smyth, and Kristen Olson. Published by SAGE Publications. Used by permission.


Questions using agree/disagree (A/D) scales are ubiquitous in survey research because they save time and space on questionnaires through display in grids, but they have also been criticized for being prone to acquiescent reports. Alternatively, questions using self-description (SD) scales (asking respondents how well a statement describes them from Completely to Not at All) can also be presented in grids or with a common question stem, and by omitting the word agree, SD scales may reduce acquiescence. However, no research has examined how response patterns may differ across A/D and SD scales. In this article, we compare survey estimates, item nonresponse and nondifferentiation across these two types of scales in a mail survey. We find that SD scales outperform A/D scales for non-socially desirable questions that ask about positive topics. For questions that ask about negative topics, we find that estimates for SD items are significantly more negative than A/D items. This may occur because the SD scale is unipolar and has only one negative response option (Not at All), whereas the bipolar A/D scale has two negative response options (Disagree and Strongly Disagree). We recommend that researchers use SD scales for nonsocially desirable positive valence questions.