Survey Instruments

Survey Instruments

Interviewing Aids

Certain instruments used during fielding of the NLSY79 provide researchers with interview- and respondent-specific information that appears as variables within the NLSY79 data files. 

Face Sheet. Immediately prior to fielding, a Face Sheet is computer-generated for each respondent and forwarded to the interviewer assigned to that case.  The Face Sheet contains:

  1. various items of respondent-specific information (name, address, phone number)
  2. information about each member of the household or family unit as of the last interview (full name, sex, relationship to youth, education, and whether the household member worked during the year), generated from the most recent administration of the Household Interview Forms
  3. a historical overview of previous interview rounds (whether the respondent refused to be interviewed, the respondent was interviewed after initially refusing, the interview was complete or incomplete, and so forth)
  4. for the 1980-86 survey years, information on the version of the Household Interview Form that was used in the previous interview

This information is used to alert the interviewer and field manager to potential problems, assist them in preparing a successful location and fielding strategy, and provide details necessary to conduct an efficient interview, such as a listing of previous employers. Information about the respondent's household and family unit from each survey year's Face Sheet can be found by searching the "Household Record" area of interest with NLS Investigator. Sample Face Sheets for most survey years can be found in the various Interviewer Reference Manuals

Information Sheet. This document contains data on the respondent from the previous interview that will be referred to and used to update information during the interviewing process. Items found on this document include marital status, high school completion status, university last attended, names of previous employers, training program enrollment, and pregnancy status. This information enables the interviewer to accurately route the respondent through the relevant sections of the questionnaire and provides on-the-spot reconciliation of earlier errors. Information Sheet items appear within the NLSY79 data set ("Last Interview Information" area of interest in NLS Investigator). Beginning with the 1993 interviews, the information sheet is incorporated into the CAPI instrument. Sample Information Sheets can be found in the Interviewer Reference Manuals. In CAPI surveys, information sheet data are stored electronically on the interviewer's laptop and accessed by the survey program during the interview; no paper information sheet is used.

Children's Record Forms (CRF) (1985-92). This interviewing aid containing information on biological (collected each survey) and nonbiological (that is, adopted or step-; collected biennially) children was used in the 1985-92 surveys to:

  1. provide identification numbers, names, dates of birth, sex, and deceased/adopted status for each child
  2. identify special sections of the main questionnaire (such as immunization, feeding, and so forth) that needed to be administered for particular children

Sample Children's Record Forms can be found in the Interviewer's Reference Manuals. Beginning with the 1993 interviews, this form is incorporated into the CAPI instrument. As with information sheets, these data are automatically accessed by the survey program during CAPI interviews, so the hard copy CRF is no longer needed.


There are separate and distinctly different questionnaires for each survey year of the NLSY79. Each questionnaire is organized around a set of topical subjects, the titles of which usually appear on either the first page of each section of the questionnaire or as a header.

Important Information

The questionnaires are critical elements of the NLSY79 documentation system and should be used by each researcher to ascertain the wording of questions, coding categories, and the universe of respondents asked to respond to a given question.

NLSY79 questionnaires record:

  1. interview dates
  2. responses to the topical survey questions (see discussion below)
  3. locating information which will assist NORC in finding the respondent for the next interview
  4. interviewer remarks on such topics as the race and sex of respondent, language in which the interview was conducted, interviewer's impressions, and so forth

Show cards are interviewing aids used in conjunction with the questionnaire and list the possible response categories for selected questions. Show cards help the respondent keep the more complicated response categories in mind.

NLSY79 questionnaires explore the following core topics: 

  • current labor force status
  • jobs and employers
  • work experience and attitudes
  • training
  • assets and income
  • family background
  • marital history
  • fertility
  • regular schooling
  • military service
  • health

Additional sets of questions have been fielded during select survey years on such topics as:

  • childcare
  • alcohol use
  • drug use
  • job search methods
  • educational/occupational aspirations
  • school discipline
  • pre-and post-natal health behaviors
  • delinquency
  • childhood residences

During the 1979-92 paper-and-pencil (PAPI) interviews, questionnaires and other survey instruments were preprinted paper products used during fielding. With the advent of computer-assisted interviewing (CAPI) in 1993, the "questionnaire" became a series of visual screens that not only told the interviewers what questions to ask but provided helpful instructions on how to administer the interview. Separate supplemental documents such as the job-specific Employer Supplements were integrated into the electronic main questionnaire. NLSY79 CAPI questionnaires incorporate some helpful elements of the traditional codebook, with reference numbers assigned to variables and greater specificity on coding and universes provided within each codeblock.

Question Numbering. The conventions used to assign question numbers within the NLSY79 documentation system vary by survey year and are based on various combinations of the questionnaire section number, the question number, or the deck and column numbers (Table 2). Users can locate a variable within the codebook--which represents each question fielded in the same order as it appears within the questionnaire--by finding the question number which appears (in parentheses) to the right of each reference number.

Table 2. NLSY79 Question Numbering Conventions

Survey Year Designated By Example
1979 Section # (S) and Question # (Q) S02Q01: Question 1 in Section 2
1980-82 Section # (S), Deck # (D), and Column # S06D1314: Question appearing in Section 6, deck 13, column 14
Deck # and Column # Q0413: Question appearing in deck 4, column 13
1988 Section # and Question # (Q) Q5.3: Question 3 in Section 5
1993-present Section #, Question # (Q) and Loop # as applicable Q5-26.3: Question 26 in Section 5, with the appended .03 representing the third loop

Deck and column numbers are vestigial items that were used to locate the data when it was input on punch cards. The deck numbers are printed at the upper right hand corner of each page in the survey instruments and at the beginning point for each new deck for the 1980 through 1992 instruments. The column numbers are printed to the left of the response categories. If the variable contains more than one digit, the column reference is to the starting column for that variable. 

Important Information

Although NLSY79 questionnaires are to some extent topically arranged, the user should be aware that the absence of a section title on a given subject does not mean that no questions on that topic were fielded during that survey year. For example, the 1987 and 1989 NLSY79 questionnaires contain no section entitled "Childcare." However, a small number of childcare questions were asked in those years and appear within the "Fertility" section of the questionnaires.