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San Diego State University

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Lesson 4: Intrusive Questions


The issue of privacy is crucial in survey data collection. It is relevant for both anonymous and confidential surveys when respondents believe questions are intrusive. This is the focus of this lesson. It examines what types of questions may be intrusive and why including them creates problems for data collection. It also classifies the types of information that may be intrusive and considers how the context of a survey determines whether a question is intrusive.

Lesson Objectives

The lesson addresses the following points:
  1. state what types of questions are intrusive in a survey, i.e. ask for information unrelated to the purpose of survey
  2. explain why asking intrusive questions is problematic
  3. identify different types of information requests may be considered intrusive
  4. distinguish contexts where questions are intrusive from contexts where questions are not intrusive (questions on economic background intrusive on survey of past course likes/dislikes, but not intrusive on whether technology is readily accessible)

Lesson Resources 

Learning Activities

  1. Guidelines for demographic questions
    1. Distribute the list of questions identified in the NACADA document and explain to the class the organization is.
    2. Ask students to discuss the following questions:
      1. Why would these questions not be intrusive in a survey of the NACADA membership?
      2. In what context might these topics be considered intrusive?
      3. What questions might members of the NACADA find intrusive given the purpose of the organization?
  2. American Community Survey
    1. Provide the link to the American Community Survey and have students review the site before class.
    2. For those that are unaware, explain the aim and use of the onece a decade census conducted by the United States government.
    3. Divide the class and debate the following topic: The American Community Survey is an intrusive survery an violates an individual’s right privacy.

Reflection/Discussion Topics

  1. Why would a question be considered intrusive if it is part of an anonymous survey?
  2. Other than demographic questions and those related to one’s personal life, what other topics might individuals find intrusive if asked in a survey?
  3. What techniques might be used to get individuals to complete survey questions collecting demographic data when they might find the questions intrusive?

Additional Resources

Roberts, S. (2010, August 19). Census survey asks too much, G.O.P. says. N.Y. Times. Retrieved from