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  • Writer's pictureKenneth Cochrane

Questions: Wording and Framing

I often write about the pluses and minuses of market research. There are many pitfalls purchasers and consumers of market research should consider before drawing conclusions and ultimately make decisions. While, I’m a proponent of talking with a sampling of your audience prior to surveying the larger targeted population, something I see too often in online surveys are poorly worded and framed questions. 


Let me give you an example: I just completed a survey sent by one of our service providers. Here’s how the first question was worded: “Our research has shown we are the best option for small businesses in the area. Our on time performance and quality of work is unparalleled. Don’t you agree our services are the best?”


Clearly a leading question, I question not only the validity of the results but the goal of the work. It appears positioned to tell the boss what he or she wants to hear.


Here’s a few other types of poor questions in market research:


Double Barrelled Questions - Here’s an example, “Do you think our product is both affordable and high quality?” The question combines two separate concepts making it difficult for respondents to provide an accurate answer.


Loaded Questions - An example: ”How much do you dislike our competitors inferior product?” The question here clearly uses biased language and assumes the respondent dislike the competitor’s product.


Negatively Worded Questions - “Do you disagree that our customer service is unreliable?” A rather confusing question that will lead to unreliable results.


Ambiguous Questions - “How often do you use our product regularly?” Hmmm, what is being asked?


Jargon or Technical Language - One of my favourites is “Alternative Investments.” I recently saw a survey of retirement plan participants that asked if they believe their plan would be better served with alternative investments. I’m still scratching my head over this one.


Assumptive Questions - This type of question reminds me of a sales assumptive close. Here’s an example, “Since you are interested in our product, will you be purchasing this month or next?” Dripping with arrogance. Perhaps, never.


Biased Language - “Wouldn’t you agree that our product is superior to all the others?” With language that favours the product, a clear bias will arise in the results.


Suggestive Questions - “Don’t you feel safer investing in our recommended options?” Clearly a desired response is being set up.


Complex Questions - “Considering the economic climate and recent regulatory changes, how likely are you to use our financial services?” This question is too complex and will confuse respondents, leading to inaccurate results. 


As a firm that often uses market research to help the decision process, be aware of how questions are asked to your target audience. Making sure surveys are not built to deliver bias is critical to good decision making.

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