Surveys Part 2: Ask the right questions in the right way!

Questions are to a survey what water is to human beings: it is what gives life to the survey. It may seem a tautology to state that a question must be correctly asked, but herein lies the problem: asking a question in a way that provides the information you expect from it is not as simple.

Here are some quick and fundamental tips to avoid incomplete, biased and/or unfocused responses in your survey.

  • Questions should be neutral in language and avoid emotive implications.

The best is to avoid inserting adjectives or opinions in a question that could damage the objectivity in an answer.

We think our products have an outstanding quality. How outstanding do you think the quality is? This is a terrible wrong question since you are forcing the people to agree with the statement by simple answering the question.

If you want to know what people think about the quality of your products ask simply that. For example: Could you rank from 0 to 10 the quality of our products? (Being 0 the worst quality and 10 the best one).

Finally, try to keep the tone of the survey balanced by asking questions in positive and negative ways.

  • Be specific in what you want to know. Do not leave room for ‘personal interpretations’. Build questions that are easily understandable.

What do you think about Our Company? There are a million answers for that question. What do I think about what aspect of you company? Customer service, responsiveness, ability to solve my problems, product quality or price?

You probably come to realize that you have many question to ask. If that is the case, ask one question at a time (see tip 3).

To collaborate in developing clear questions it is vital to keep the grammar as simple as possible.

  • Never ask two questions simultaneously.  Each question should be focused on a single topic or issue: Don’t write double-barreled questions.

It is already confusing for everyone when casually speaking we ask multiple questions in one go. Imagine if you come up with that scenario when answering a survey! The respondent probably will not know which question to answer.

What is the nicest and cheapest apple pie you ever ate? We have at least two different questions here. Let’s ask one at a time.

When asking about frequency it is very important to specify. If you use words such as ‘often’ or ‘regularly’ it is fundamental to be clear about what could be too often or not. Is twice a week too often? All this information must be specified.

  • For closed-ended questions make sure to be exhaustive and exclusive in terms of the options provided.

To make sure this is the case always include the ‘Other’/NA category.

  • Short questions, short surveys.

Multiple choice questions are maybe more complex to write but easier to answer. Since you have the potential answer already handed over to you as a participant, there is no need for further imagination in terms of answers. Multiple choice questions are, therefore, less demanding for the respondent and easier to analyse and to convert into meaningful information that is clearly readable.  Free text answers are the shortest and easiest to ask, but could be complicated to answer and they are quite hard to quantify (if needed) without losing accurateness.

Finally, when you increase the length of questions and surveys, you decrease the chance of receiving a complete response. It is always best to keep the objectives very clear from the beginning to make you survey concise.

  • Scale Point building.

This is probably one of the most difficult aspect to consider. How to use consistent vocabulary, how to make the option mutually exclusive and how to label all the possible values are some of the considerations to be aware of.

EXAMPLE:

Q: How important is it to use child seats in motor vehicles when transporting a child?          

Extremely Important

Moderately Important

Slightly Important

Neither Important nor Unimportant

Slightly Unimportant

Moderately Unimportant

Extremely Unimportant

Key Takeaways 

  • Make sure you use consistent language across the entire response scale. In the example ‘Important’ was used in all the scale.
  • Make sure each scale point is verbally labeled.
  • Use balanced scales. The extremes in the scale must be equals in value (Extremely Important vs. Extremely Unimportant). Make sure you cover the entire scale value: there is no value between ‘Slightly important’ and ‘Moderately important’ but there is a medium value between ‘Slightly important’ and ‘Extremely important’.
  • Response options should match the subject of the question. In the example ‘Important’ was used in the question and in the answer.

Keeping all the above tips in mind, you are ready to design your survey and write methodologically correct questions. Good luck!

 

This blog is part of a series where we’ll continue to address ways in which you can gain deep insights into stakeholders through carefully designed surveys.

If you believe your business could do with support in data analysis, you can contact me at +353 (0)91 739450 or john@imsmarketing.ie.

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