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Three Errors That Lead to Bad Survey Questions

November 30, 2010  

If you want solid information, you should take great care when writing survey questions. "Leading and misleading questions always yield questionable data, based on which you are highly likely to report findings that can misguide stakeholders," writes Carrey V. Azzara at MarketingProfs. "Moreover, decisions they make based on such data could cause an organization's failure rather than lead to its success."

He outlines four areas that can trip up your respondents—and foul your data:

Leading questions. If you ask a question like "When did you (or will you) stop investing in print marketing?" you assume the precondition of a change in investment behavior. Likewise, if you preface your question with an introductory statement, you predispose respondents to give answers they wouldn't otherwise provide. For instance: "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?"

Lack of parallelism. "It's never good if respondents read a question and then say to themselves, What do they want?" says Azzara. This happens when multiple-choice answers don't seem to match what's asked in the question. So if you ask "What percent of per-unit product costs are associated with run-time software unit royalties, electronic components, and mechanical components?" the possible answers should correspond precisely to items listed in the question.

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