Comparison of a traditional questionnaire with an icon/calendar-based questionnaire to assess occupational history

Am J Ind Med. 2001 Nov;40(5):502-11. doi: 10.1002/ajim.1118.


Background: Self-reported work histories are an essential tool for estimating exposure in many occupational epidemiologic studies. However, the transience of some occupations such as farm work can hamper recall, resulting in inaccurate reporting. To address this problem, we have developed an icon/calendar-based questionnaire. This study compares work histories collected via this questionnaire to those collected via a traditional questionnaire.

Methods: Eighty-nine farmworkers and non-farmworkers were interviewed twice, 8-10 months apart, about their lifetime employment. In the first interview, subjects were asked to recount their entire work history, starting from the interview date and moving backwards in time ("traditional questionnaire"). In the second interview, subjects were first asked about important life events, which were recorded with icons on a calendar. They were then asked to recount their work history, which was recorded, job-by-job, on the calendar with icons ("icon-calendar questionnaire").

Results: Number of jobs and amount of work time accounted for since first employment were significantly greater using the icon-calendar questionnaire than the traditional questionnaire, the disparity increasing with time from the date of interview. The ratio of number of jobs in the traditional questionnaire to number of jobs in the icon-calendar questionnaire decreased from 100.0% in the most recent time period to 0.0% in the earliest time period. While the percentage of time explained by employment remained relatively constant across time periods in the icon-calendar questionnaire, ranging from 86.3 to 98.9%, it rapidly decreased with time in the traditional questionnaire, from 77.9% in the most recent time period to 0.0% in the earliest time period.

Conclusions: The icon-calendar questionnaire was more effective than the traditional questionnaire for obtaining complex work histories during interviews, producing a more complete picture of a person's work history.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Agriculture / statistics & numerical data*
  • Employment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Epidemiologic Research Design*
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Hispanic or Latino / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*
  • Transients and Migrants / statistics & numerical data*
  • Washington