Stefan Drew - The Marketing Magician

FE, Education & Business Marketing: Quick, Effective, Low Cost Marketing

Stefan Drew - The Marketing Magician

Confusing Survey Questions

Pose a simple question in a survey or questionnaire and you could get a multitude of confusing answers.

I’ve been working with Nikki for a while now and she recently asked me to advise her on finding someone to undertake a survey for her.  That led to a discussion on the problems that can ensue if you get it wrong.


Let’s take a simple question that we can all relate to.  Looking at the image on this page what colour is the house depicted?


Now to be fair this picture was taken in late evening so the image is not perfect .. but then many surveys also start with a “blurred” image.  An unclear idea of what they are gtrying to determine or even why.


Back to the colour of our house. The options given might be black, white, cream, off white and grey.  The problem then is that not everyone sees colour the same and my cream might be what you’d call off white.  Worse still, if I’m colour blind I have only black or white to choose from but will see it as a shade of grey.  Of course the real answer is that we can only see one side of the house so can only answer the question “What colour is the side of the house that you can see?”

It also assumes we also don’t get confused at which house is being pointed at. If, as here, there are several possibilities, then confusion again reigns. How can we be sure the question we asked is the one being answered?  Clue, most of these buildings aren’t houses, at least one is a pubs. 
If that confuses you, then you’ll start to understand the complexity of phrasing a question so that it is not ambiguous and more importantly the answers aren’t ambiguous. 
The real issue here is that the survey designers don’t necessarily know how to ask you the questions they need to ask to formulate the right questions to put in the survey.  That, or where you engage an external business, they are just in a hurry to get the business and move on as fast as possible.
Whatever you do it is always wise test the questions with a small sample and iron out obvious wrinkles, before embarking on a bigger sample.
What isn’t so confusing is the advice I give in my one to one strategy sessions.  Contact if you’d like clear advice on the way forward.

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