Writing quality survey questions is not as easy as people think. Well-written survey questions gather the exact information you need without inciting biased or unclear perspectives within the question itself; a survey question must maintain a neutral stance at all times. Let’s analyze a potential survey question:
Question: Do you believe religious extremists should be prosecuted for their actions if they hurt another person while protesting?
Is that a good survey question? In my opinion it is a terrible survey question. I’ll explain why.
When we ask questions, they are structured largely based upon our environment – what we know and experience in life every day. This includes prejudices, pre-established perspectives, and our personal interpretation of the world at large. This is okay and actually makes daily communication much easier because the people we communicate with on a day-to-day basis more than likely share our immediate environment. They could be the neighbor who lives across the street or a fellow parent at the local high school football game and more than likely their perception of the world will be similar to ours. When we converse with them, those shared beliefs are communicated silently within the conversation, and the conveyance of ideas and opinions are much more easily shared. To put it another way, two wheat farmers based in the same county but who have never met could more than likely work together side by side all day long without much confusion in their communication. Now imagine a sea-hardened, leather-skinned Alaskan fisherman trying to carry on a general conversation with a green New York tax attorney. That would be an interesting conversation to hear, wouldn’t it? These examples are, of course, extreme, but they convey the point I’m trying to make. Unless you deliberately structure your sentences in a neutral manner that does not encourage pre-conceived perceptions, you’re going to have erroneous data for your survey.
Let’s look at the question again:
Do you believe religious extremists should be prosecuted for their actions if they hurt another person while protesting?
‘Religious extremists’ is an extremely poor description. For me, that description brings up images of terrorists, and that is an image that directly conflicts with two other words in the sentence: prosecuted and protests. I don’t associate terrorists with prosecution or legal, law-abiding action of any sort. Nor do I associate terrorists with any sort of organized protest. The description of ‘religious extremists’ convolutes the entire question and, in my opinion, would confuse the person taking the survey and most likely yield useless data.
‘Hurt another person while protesting’. This description is also confusing. How did they hurt this person? Was it an accidental hot-coffee spill that burned someone’s arm? Did the protester shoot someone? Or maybe the protester assaulted an employee who was simply walking by on her way to work? ‘Hurt another person while protesting’ is simply too vague to be within a survey question. It should clearly describe how the individual was hurt.
Here is a much more precise survey question that could be accurately answered by the New York attorney, the Alaskan fisherman, or the wheat farmers:
Do you believe a pro-life activist should be criminally prosecuted for shooting a pregnant woman while she was attempting to visit an abortion clinic during a public protest?
Although that survey question would invoke an emotional response from anyone who reads it, it still maintains a neutral stance within its description. This allows the reader to give their response based on a clearFind Article, unbiased perspective.
Formulating survey questions is a much tougher task than most people realize. The questions must maintain a neutral stance or they will taint the data being collected and render the survey useless. You should take great care when writing survey questions and have at least several stages of proofreading before the questions are finalized.