Author Bias: Avoid Asking Leading Questions

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Posted Mar 13, 2018

Do-it-yourself survey solutions are emerging all over the market research world as affordable solutions for companies to obtain consumer feedback. DIY research is a wonderful alternative to more expensive solutions that require the expertise of market research professionals. However, it is important to understand the possible errors that may arise when choosing to design a survey yourself. One of the riskiest and most predominant issues that lead to biased feedback is asking leading questions.

A leading question is one that influences an individual to provide a particular or guided response. The goal of qualitative and quantitative research is to obtain unprejudiced consumer feedback. It is imperative that survey questions are crafted in a way that promotes answers that are solely based on respondent’s perspectives.

Honesty is the Best Policy

Candid, unbiased respondent feedback is fundamental for user research. When researchers ask questions, the desire is to learn more about the consumer’s actions. Accomplishing that desire is problematic when asking leading questions, because the questions interject the answer. These types of questions make it challenging for a respondent to express an honest opinion. For instance, this can be exceptionally true in usability studies. During usability studies the interviewer is seen as the expert in the room, so participants may feel their opinions are not merited enough to disagree.

Leading questions often result in biased answers because respondents tend to be impressionable or prone to copying the words of the interviewer. How questions are phrased may affect the participant’s response. For example, an inexperienced interviewer may ask; “How ridiculous was Jimmy Kimmel’s opening monologue at the 2018 Oscar Awards?” This immediately brings a negative connotation to the question. Instead, an interviewer may restructure the question to say; Please describe your feelings about Jimmy Kimmel’s opening monologue at the 2018 Oscar Awards. The more leading an interviewer’s questions are, the less likely the respondent will comment in a way that produces intriguing data. So, sometimes the best question is not a question at all, but rather a redirection to help respondents communicate their thoughts. In doing that, interviewers will be able to evoke revelations toward viewing a problem or solution in a different way.

Leading the Witness

Most may be acquainted with the concept of leading questions from courtroom performances in movies or television series, as lawyers call out: “Objection your honor. Counselor is leading the witness!” There are many ways in which a respondent can be enticed to repeat or confirm an interviewer’s bias or assumptions. Though, most interviewers ask leading questions unintentionally, some interviewers may find it tempting to influence a consumer to leave positive feedback. It is important to understand that even though it may be appealing to confirm your own theories or receive high ratings about a product, the results of a leading question are not authentic and will not improve a business model. Negative feedback should be viewed as a contribution to the data being obtained; consumers are revealing what will make them happy.

A great way to gather consumer insights, without leading the respondent, is to include open-ended questions in the survey design. Open-ended questions are designed to stimulate explanations from respondents; they allow the freedom to answer the question in any way that suits their truest opinions. Some examples of leading questions and how to rephrase include:

  • Leading Question: Don’t you hate President Donald Trump’s views on gun control policies?         Rephrase to Open-End: How do you feel about President Donald Trump’s views on gun control?
  • Leading Question: How has amazing is the new iPhone X?         Rephrase to Open-End: Please tell us your thoughts about the new iPhone X.
  • Leading Question: Are you worried about increased crime among young children in the United States?         Rephrase to Open-End: What are your thoughts about crime rates among young children in the United States?

In the rephrased forms of these questions, the respondent isn't being swayed to agree or disagree with the interviewer, nor are they influenced by the interviewer's submissions.

Practice Makes Perfect - The Takeaway

The purpose of reducing bias isn’t to make participants answer the same, but to ensure that survey questions are delivered in a way that allows respondents to divulge their true feelings without misrepresentations. Now and then, everyone has oversights when designing survey questions, and it is difficult to design a question that is unbiased in every way. However, being mindful of the challenge and practicing accurate survey design methods is a great way to learn how to avoid leading questions. Remember to be conscious of scenarios where you may be asking leading questions and understand the resolve by; using neutral language, refrain from embellishing questions, and avoid absolute words. Applying these tools will allow you to extrapolate authentic and meaningful data from your respondents.

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