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Give options that make sense

I have written before about the need to use clear questions in surveys to get meaningful results, and given some tips on how to write such questions. Every time I do a survey with poor questions I cringe – do they really not care about getting good results or just don’t understand that not everyone knows what they are really asking?

One of the most common questions I have seen in online surveys is the following:

Are you …


Technically, the answer is yes  – I am male or female and so is every other human I know of! Fairly pointless question to ask unless you have a third group responding.

In this case, we can see what is really being asked (“which are you?”) and the available answers lead us to answering correctly, but it isn’t always so easy.

It was great recently to be asked to help a major research centre refine their questionnaire. They had determined the questions they wanted to ask but understood that how they asked was critical to the final result of their research.

So if you are preparing surveys or questionnaires, my two key tips are:

  • read the questions to make sure the options answer the question and suit your needs
  • get at least one other person to read the questions to ensure they make sense to a less involved pair of eyes

Use your words wisely!

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