Choosing Questions Wisely

Market research involves many subtle nuances that go unnoticed and impact the level of insight gained from a project. The fundamental principles of good research are just as much based on skillful composition as science. The key to an effective survey lies in how the questions are structured, phrased, and ordered. Last week, I was asked when it is appropriate to use a ranking answer choice style question (1-5) instead of a single-answer choice style (ex: yes or no).

Dichotomous yes/no questions are the simplest type of question to ask a respondent. They require the least amount of effort on the respondent’s part and often evoke a rapid response. They can also be analyzed in a more concrete fashion and provide clear answers on what action should be taken. For this reason, dichotomous questions are mostly used when you want to force respondents to make a choice. For example, “Would you support this measure being added to the November ballot?” with answer choices: “yes” or “no.” Single-answer choice questions come with some limitations. They don’t measure how strongly a respondent feels about an answer choice, which can suggest the presence of other variables one needs to consider. Take for example the following ranking style question, “How likely would you be to vote yes on this measure if it was added to the November ballot?” with answer choices: “very likely,” “somewhat likely,” or “not likely.” This question provides more clarity on the respondents’ point of view on the measure and may allow you to ask further questions of those who said “somewhat likely” to better understand what factors are influencing their perspectives.

Each survey question type plays a unique part in the creation of a survey and there are hundreds of different ways to design questions and overall surveys. Understanding how to ask questions in a manner that will allows you to unravel complex and emotionally driven aspect of consumerism and answer specific research questions is what makes market research professionals tick.

Do you have any other questions or comments on this topic? Please leave a comment below.

-Lee Sumner, Research Analyst