Increase the Reliability of Survey Answers: Question Wording

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Wording is an important aspect of the survey design process in order to increase the reliability of survey answers

In order to provide a consistent data collection experience for all survey respondents, a good question has to have the following two properties:

  1. The question means the same thing to every respondent.
  2. The kinds of answers that constitute an appropriate response to the question are communicated consistently to all respondents.

Avoid Inadequate Question Wording

A simple example of inadequate survey question wording is when the words do not form a complete sentence. For example:

Bad Question Wording Better Question Wording
Age? What was your age on your last birthday?
Reason last saw dentist? What was the last dental problem for which you most recently visited your dentist?

“Bad” questions (listed above, to the left) cause your respondents to work harder. Respondents will have to think harder, filing in the blanks of the questions – add words or change words – in order to make answerable questions from the words provided. If the goal of the survey is to have all respondents answering the same questions, then it’s best if the survey researcher writes the questions more completely or “better” (such as listed above, to the right). Complete questions will get you more reliable answers.

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