Applications of calendar instruments in social surveys: a review

Qual Quant. 2009 May;43(3):333-349. doi: 10.1007/s11135-007-9129-8. Epub 2007 Oct 5.


Retrospective reports in survey interviews and questionnaires are subject to many types of recall error, which affect completeness, consistency, and dating accuracy. Concerns about this problem have led to the development of so-called calendar instruments, or timeline techniques. These aided recall procedures have been designed to help respondents gain better access to long-term memory by providing a graphical time frame in which life history information can be represented. In order to obtain more insights into the potential benefits of calendar methodology, this paper presents a review of the application of calendar instruments, their design characteristics and effects on data quality. Calendar techniques are currently used in a variety of fields, including life course research, epidemiology and family planning studies. Despite the growing interest in these new methods, their application often lacks sufficient theoretical foundation and little attention has been paid to their effectiveness. Several recent studies however, have demonstrated that in comparison to more traditional survey methods, calendar techniques can improve some aspects of data quality. While calendar instruments have been shown to be potentially beneficial to retrospective data quality, there is an apparent need for methodological research that generates more systematic knowledge about their application in social surveys.