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Survey Question Miswording

Language is everything in surveys. You’ll want to use survey questions with clear, universal meanings so that respondents interpret the questions correctly. By understanding the common pitfalls of survey question wording, you’ll be better prepared to recognize bad questions and remove them from your question set.

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Poor Survey Question Language

Some types of questions do not belong on your surveys:

Polarizing

Polarizing

When a survey question contains strong language — such as “always” or “never” — it might bias respondents to answer in the converse or restrict their potential to use the entire range of the survey rating scale.

For example, the question “I can always get in touch with an account representative in a timely manner” will produce few (if any) respondents indicating a strong level of agreement. In reality, no one can always get in touch with an account representative in a timely manner. This type of question produces compression in the data set.

Double-Barreled

Double-Barreled

Survey questions should focus on one construct, or topic, at a time. Questions that fail to do this are “double-barreled,” meaning they ask about multiple constructs in one question.

For example, the question “I have good opportunities for pay raises and promotions” will provide answers that lack clarity. Perhaps there are good opportunities for promotions, but these promotions come without pay increases.

Ambiguous

Ambiguous

Survey questions should be clearly and sharply worded. Each question should also ensure that targeted action can be taken in response to the question.

For example, “Communication at work is good” does not explicitly address the source or direction of communication. As a result, if the question is less than 100% positive, it is impossible to know what elements of communication should be improved upon.

Wordy

Wordy

A good survey question is direct and to the point. For example, the question “Thinking over my entire experience with the company, I would say the company has a good focus on customers” could be phrased more simply and elegantly as, “Customer service is good.”

Wordy questions can confuse respondents, decrease the quality of answers received, and reduce response rates.

Mini-messages

Mini-messages

While it might be tempting to use questions as a chance to communicate core values to employees or customers, that can alienate respondents. An example of this is a question like, “I exemplify the core value of Responsiveness by addressing customer requests within 24 hours.”

The survey is an opportunity to gauge customer, employee, or market perceptions about the company — not to tell respondents what you think their perceptions ought to be.

Negatively Phrased

Negatively Phrased

A series of negatively phrased questions can implant undesirable thoughts and perceptions about an organization. For example, the question: “Workloads at our Company are excessive,” can cause respondents to reconsider their opinions about workloads and begin to see negativity where there was previously none.

Survey questions can appear straightforward, but as you can see, the process of arriving at ‘simple’ questions can be complex. NBRI’s expertise in the design of survey questions makes the process painless and worry-free. Learn more about our survey process here.

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