Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of posts on common Survey writing mistakes. Click here to see the previous item and here for the next one.
MISTAKE #3: YOU USE EMOTIVE LANGUAGE
One of the most common ways of deliberately manipulating Survey results is to use strong or emotive language in Survey questions. The political “push polls” are particularly guilty of this. Consider the following question:
How do you feel about the President’s unconstitutional attempt to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants?
Or this one that pushes the opposite opinion:
There is bipartisan immigration reform legislation being debated in Washington. The bill would secure our borders, block employers from hiring undocumented immigrants, and make sure that undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. with no criminal record register for legal status. If a long list of requirements is met over more than a decade, it provides eligibility for a path to citizenship.
Would you support or oppose this proposal?
In both of these questions the author has a clear agenda and is attempting to skew the Survey results to match that agenda. These are the types of questions one would find in a partisan push poll rather than a professional Survey. Loaded words and phrases like “unconstitutional,” “amnesty,” “secure,” and “long list of requirements” constitute emotive language since they are intended to trigger an emotional response from the respondent and subconsciously alter their opinion to match that of the questioner.
Like leading questions, emotive language introduces bias into Survey results. Consequently, if the intent of a well-written professional Survey is to capture the way things are (or how people feel) at a particular moment in time rather than simply (and unfairly) reinforcing the author’s own opinions, emotive language should be avoided at all costs. Simple, straightforward, objective, unemotional wording may not make for very interesting reading, but it is fundamental to a well-written, bias-free Survey.
Consequently, for the above example a better question would be:
What is your opinion of the immigration reform legislation currently being debated by Congress and the President?