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A step-ladder question refers to a type of question sequence that yields more complete and accurate data than would a single question on the same topic. Step-ladder questions are used by survey researchers in an attempt to reduce item nonresponse (missing data), measurement error, or both, although they add slightly to the cost of gathering the data since more than one question needs to be asked.

For example, asking someone into which of the following income categories his or her 2007 total household income fell—less than $20,000; $20,000-$39,999; $40,000-$59,999; $60,000-$79,999; $80,000-$99,999; $100,000 or more—will lead to a good deal of “Don't Know” or “Refused” answers. Researchers have found that a step-ladder question about income will substantially reduce item nonresponse and thus the need to impute those ...

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