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Ask an Imprecise Question, Get an Imprecise Answer

October 19, 2010  
When you write survey questions, it's important to ensure the information it elicits will produce meaningful analysis. "Data from mixed-mode questions are hard, if not impossible, to interpret accurately," explains Carey V. Azzara at MarketingProfs. To make his point, he uses this sample survey question:

Please rate the effectiveness in achieving your business goals compared with your expectations for each of the following social-media networks your company uses. Use the scale below, where 1 = much lower than expected and 7 = much higher than expected.

The problem here is the assumption that all clients begin with similar expectation levels: "A respondent could score the 'effectiveness' for an item 'higher than expected,' but that person's starting expectation might have been low; or a respondent could score 'effectiveness' for an item 'lower than expected,' but that person's starting expectation might have been high," Azzara explains.

The solution, he adds, "is to collect information on expectations separatelybefore asking about effectiveness."

Moreover, respondents' definition of "effectiveness" likely varies, so he recommends prefacing the question with this introduction:

The next two questions relate to the "effectiveness" in achieving business goals from the use of social-media networks. For the purpose of this study, we define "effectiveness" as an above-average outcome regarding the marketing of your brand, product, or service.

Thereafter, a question would ask respondents to rate their original expectation levels, also on a scale of one to seven: "What were your starting expectations of how the following social-media networks could help your company?"

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