Quality & Quantity 38: 235–258, 2004.
© 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Operationalization of Social Science Concepts by
WILLEM E. SARIS and IRMTRAUD GALLHOFER
Statistics and Methodology Department, Political, Social Cultural Science Faculty, University of
Amsterdam, O.Z. Achterburgwal 237, 1012 DL Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Abstract. Much has been written about the effects of the wording of survey questions on responses,
whereas, relatively little attention has been given to the content of the questions or the translation of
theoretical concepts into related questions in survey research.
In this paper we concentrate on the link between a set of basic concepts for social science re-
search and questions that can be formulated to measure these concepts. These basic concepts are:
evaluations, cognitive judgments, relations, evaluative beliefs, feelings, preferences, rights, norms ,
policies, action tendencies, expectations, behavior, events, knowledge, demographic characteristics
and information about place, time and procedures.
In order to clarify the link between the concepts and their verbal expressions (assertions) we
analyze structures of sentences presenting the different concepts. Eight principally different assertion
structures have been found which describe most of the survey concepts.
These ﬁndings can be used in two ways: one can use them to specify an assertion for a certain
type of concept or alternatively one can also use the system to classify existing questions.
Much has been written about the effects of the wording of survey questions on
the responses (Sudman et al., 1982; Schuman and Presser, 1981; Andrews, 1984;
Alwin and Krosnick, 1991; Molenaar, 1986; Költringer, 1993; Scherpenzeel and
Saris, 1997). In contrast, very little attention has been given to the problem of
translating concepts into questions (De Groot and Medendorp, 1986; Hox, 1997).
Blalock (1990), following Northrop (1947), distinguishes between concepts by in-
tuition and concepts by postulation. He says the following about these concepts
Concepts by postulation receive their meaning from the deductive theory in
which they are embedded. Ideally, such concepts would be taken either as
primitive or undeﬁned or as deﬁned by postulation strictly in terms of other
concepts that were already understood. Thus, having deﬁned mass and dis-
tance, a physicist deﬁnes density as mass divided by volume (distance cube).
The second kind of concept distinguished by Northrop are concepts by intu-
ition, or concepts that are more or less immediately perceived by our sensory