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Fatal Mistakes in Questionnaire Design: Leading and Misleading Questions

by Carey V. Azzara  |  
September 28, 2010

In this article, learn how to...

  • Identify biased, leading survey questions and correct them
  • Identify and correct questions with parallel-construction problems
  • Identify poorly worded questions and correct them

Leading and misleading questions always yield questionable data, based on which you are highly likely to report findings that can misguide stakeholders. Moreover, decisions they make based on such data could cause an organization's failure rather than lead to its success.

Leading Questions

Questions like those in the following examples lead respondents to give answers they might not otherwise provide if given a less-biased question and a set of balanced answer choices. Although these real-world examples in this article may seem a little extreme, they illustrate the point.

Examples of Leading Questions

Q10. When did you (or will you) stop investing in print marketing?

1. Last year
2. This year
3. Next year

Q20. Vendors that offer free upgrades always win higher satisfaction scores than those that don't. How much more satisfied are you when a vendor offers free upgrades?

1. Slightly more satisfied
2. Moderately more satisfied
3. More satisfied
4. Much more satisfied
5. Definitively more satisfied
Assuming a precondition (e.g., a behavior that is no longer practiced, such as discontinuing an investment behavior) and predisposing respondents with an introductory statement, even if true, are common types of leading questions. Avoid both.

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Carey V. Azzara is the principal and founder of AtHeath, LLC (, a strategic research planning and consulting firm. He is the author of Questionnaire Design for Business Research (Tate Publishing, 2010). Reach him via

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  • by Andrew Whalley Mon Dec 6, 2010 via web

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