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Three big reasons for using self-report data

First, let’s agree on what we mean by self-report data. The Cambridge Dictionary defines the verb “self-report” as “to give details about something yourself, rather than having them reported by someone else” [1]. We can say that self-report data is information about something provided directly by the person perceiving it.

Self-report data is most often obtained via surveys or questionnaires. At one point in your life you have probably given feedback on a product you bought online, or filled out a form at the doctor’s office, or clicked on those smiley faces you sometimes find outside airport bathrooms. Diaries are another example of self-report tool albeit less structured than a form. Diaries are often used in research studies to monitor for example how someone’s recovery or symptoms progress over time.

There are many reasons why you might want to collect and analyse self-report data. I’ll focus on what I consider to be the three most important factors.

Self-report data is cost-effective. Technology has significantly decreased the barriers for the collection of self-report data. Access to the Internet is pervasive in many countries. The International Telecommunication Union [2] estimates that in 2019 the percentage of individuals using the Internet [3] reached 82.5% in Europe, 77.2% in the Americas, 51.6% in Arab States, 48.4% in Asia and the Pacific, and 28.2% in Africa. The internet enables an electronic survey to be sent to an unlimited number of people, provided you know how to reach them. You can even get away with not having a list of emails, a link to an electronic survey may be distributed via social media, or converted to print media with a QR code [4] that can be scanned by smartphones. Once you account for the basic cost of creating you survey [5] and finding an appropriate distribution channel, there is no additional cost for scaling up your data collection from one respondent to a million. This makes for a very cost-effective tool.

Self-report goes beyond subjective data. It is easy to think that self-report data is intrinsically subjective, and we often see it used as a way to monitor satisfaction, emotions or other subjective phenomena. However, a respondent may also report on objective facts and observations. For example, age, biological sex, current weight, how many people live in your house, and how many cars you own are all examples of objective variables that can be self-reported. Self-report can also be a powerful tool for monitoring how many times a certain event happens, or follow-up on the effects of newly implemented changes within an organization.

Impressions can be more important than facts. Research shows that explicit knowledge can be overridden by appearances and first impressions when we need to make fast decisions [6,7], and that these first impressions can mediate real outcomes such as financial earnings [8]. This aspect of human nature has been explored by marketing and sales experts for centuries. In addition, our impressions can also have tangible effects on our health. The perception of taking medication, even when it is a sugar pill, can have a measurable impact on how people experience symptoms, known as the placebo effect [9]. We also know that self-rated health (one’s perception of one’s own health on a scale from very poor to very good) can be as accurate in predicting death as an objective health assessment [10,11]. Therefore self-report data might be just what you need to understand or predict a given measurable outcome.

If you would like to start collecting self-report data and give your organization the advantage of data-driven decision making, learn more about our data collection platform or get in touch with one of our data experts today.






[5] These costs may include but are not limited to: internet access, designing a questionnaire, selecting an adequate web-survey tool, obtaining contact information for your target audience, paying for distribution in print or social media.







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