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Some Issues in Question Construction

Question construction is pivotal to the success of a survey. This is particularly true of written questionnaires, where respondents cannot ask for clarification of the question.

Can the question be misunderstood? The question ``What kind of car do you drive?'' may be asking for type of car (coupe, sedan, SUV, pick-up truck?). Or model type (Ford Taurus, Pontiac Firebird, Honda Civic?).

Do any terms need to be defined? Consider the more specific question ``Do you drive a domestic or foreign car?" What do you mean by domestic or foreign? Is a Tennessee-made Toyota foreign? What about a Mercedes Benz, now co-owned by Chrysler?

What type of information do you want to gather: knowledge or attitude? Consider the following questions: ``Are your class sizes satisfactory?'' or ``Do you feel your class sizes are satisfactory?'' or ``Are you personally satisfied with your class sizes?'' All three questions ask for an opinion, but the first seems more objective while the last one is most personal.

Are the questions loaded? Some questions lead the respondent to an almost predetermined response, especially if the respondent does not have a strong opinion on the matter. Compare ``Are your class sizes satisfactory?'' with the more neutral ``Are your class sizes satisfactory or not satisfactory?'' A more loaded question would be ``Do you agree that some class sizes are too large?''.

Do the questions ask for sensitive information? When asked ``Did you vote during the last Presidential election?'' some respondents may not feel comfortable admitting they did not. A better question may be: ``Did anything come up that prevented you from voting during the last Presidential election?''.


next up previous contents index
Next: Types of Survey Errors Up: Samples and Populations Previous: Types of Surveys

2003-09-08