USING STATISTICS: Spotting and Avoiding Them
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Suggestions for Wording Questions
Bethlehem1 gives rules of thumb to consider when
wording questions. The following list is based mostly on his
suggestions. See his text for examples and elaboration.
- Use familiar wording. Avoid technical
words that are distinctive to a particular subculture (unless the
questionnaire is aimed at that particular subculture).
- Avoid indefinite words such as "regularly,"
unless the text of the questionnaire specifies what they mean (e.g.,
"at least once a week" or "within the past week")
- Avoid other ambiguous words (e.g,
- Avoid long questions. (This needs to be
- Try to avoid questions requiring the
- Avoid leading questions (e.g., "Do you
agree with most
people that ..."). The leading part of the question might appear in a
preceding sentence --e.g., "Most people believe that ... Do you
- Avoid "loaded" words in questions -- e.g.,
"inconsiderate people who ...", "good citizens"
- Avoid asking precise questions about things
can't reasonably be expected to know precisely. (e.g., "How many
servings of vegetables do you eat in a typical week?") A question with
several ranges as options is better.
- Avoid sensitive questions if possible.
likely to be inaccurate. If sensitive questions are
necessary, phrase them in ways that reduce embarrassment or
example, "We all get angry sometimes. How often have you gotten angry
in the past week?"
- Avoid questions that ask two things at
once. (e.g., "Do
you think you should exercise more often and eat fewer desserts?")
- Avoid questions with two negatives. (e.g.,
oppose a ban on smoking?") They may be hard to unravel and therefore
subject to misinterpretation.
- Avoid hypothetical questions (e.g., "If you
president, what would you do to ..."). It is hard to say just what
information the answer to such questions is really telling you.
1. Bethlehem, Jelke (2009). Applied Survey Methods, Wiley,
45 - 50.
updated July 31, 2012