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J Med Internet Res. 2015 Apr 16;17(4):e96. doi: 10.2196/jmir.3530.

Validity of Internet-based longitudinal study data: the elephant in the virtual room.

Author information

1
The Roslin Institute and Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom. Carys.Pugh@roslin.ed.ac.uk.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Internet-based data collection relies on well-designed and validated questionnaires. The theory behind designing and validating questionnaires is well described, but few practical examples of how to approach validation are available in the literature.

OBJECTIVE:

We aimed to validate data collected in an ongoing Internet-based longitudinal health study through direct visits to participants and recall of their health records. We demonstrate that despite extensive pre-planning, social desirability can still affect data in unexpected ways and that anticipation of poor quality data may be confounded by positive validation.

METHODS:

Dogslife is a large-scale, Web-based longitudinal study of canine health, in which owners of Labrador Retrievers were recruited and questioned at regular intervals about the lifestyle and health of their dogs using an Internet-based questionnaire. The Dogslife questionnaire predominantly consists of closed-answer questions. In our work, two separate validation methodologies were used: (1) direct interviews with 43 participants during visits to their households and (2) comparison of owner-entered health reports with 139 historical health records.

RESULTS:

Our results indicate that user-derived measures should not be regarded as a single category; instead, each measurement should be considered separately as each presents its own challenge to participants. We recommend trying to ascertain the extent of recall decay within a study and, if necessary, using this to guide data collection timepoints and analyses. Finally, we recommend that multiple methods of communication facilitate validation studies and aid cohort engagement.

CONCLUSIONS:

Our study highlighted how the theory underpinning online questionnaire design and validation translates into practical data issues when applied to Internet-based studies. Validation should be regarded as an extension of questionnaire design, and that validation work should commence as soon as sufficient data are available. We believe that validation is a crucial step and hope our suggested guidelines will help facilitate validation of other Internet-based cohort studies.

KEYWORDS:

Internet; canine; epidemiology; health; longitudinal studies; questionnaires; validation studies as topic

PMID:
25887101
PMCID:
PMC4416133
DOI:
10.2196/jmir.3530
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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