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J Adolesc Health. 2017 Jun;60(6):751-753. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2017.01.003. Epub 2017 Mar 6.

Use of a Respondent-Generated Personal Code for Matching Anonymous Adolescent Surveys in Longitudinal Studies.

Author information

1
Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Electronic address: Lisa.ripper@chp.edu.
2
Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Abstract

PURPOSE:

Research on sensitive and private topics relies heavily on self-reported responses. Social desirability bias may reduce the accuracy and reliability of self-reported responses. Anonymous surveys appear to improve the likelihood of honest responses. A challenge with prospective research is maintaining anonymity while linking individual surveys over time.

METHODS:

We have tested a secret code method in which participants create their own code based on eight questions that are not expected to change.

RESULTS:

In an ongoing middle school trial, 95.7% of follow-up surveys are matched to a baseline survey after changing up to two-code variables. The percentage matched improves by allowing up to four changes (99.7%).

CONCLUSIONS:

The use of a secret code as an anonymous identifier for linking baseline and follow-up surveys is feasible for use with adolescents. While developed for violence prevention research, this method may be useful with other sensitive health behavior research.

KEYWORDS:

Adolescents; Anonymous surveys; Confidentiality; Longitudinal survey research; Privacy

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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