Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of posts on common Survey writing mistakes. Click here to see the previous item and here for the next one.
MISTAKE #4: YOU ASK COMPOUND QUESTIONS
One of the first things we teach new Survey writers at Maven is the “one question rule”:
One Question Is One Question
In other words, each individual Survey “question” should cover one – and only one – topic or theme. Likewise, each question should only require one type of answer from respondents. Including multiple topics, themes, or response types in a single interrogative statement results in a compound question (also sometimes called a “double-barreled question“).
Consider the following examples:
- Which flavor of ice cream do you prefer and why?
- What time do you go to work in the morning, how do you get there, and how long does it take?
- Are you in favor of less expensive and safer cars?
Each of these examples actually contain two or more individual questions mashed up into a single sentence. For example, the last item is actually two separate questions disguised as one:
- Are you in favor of less expensive cars?
- Are you in favor of safer cars?
In addition to creating a logical fallacy (what if I favor one or the other but not both? how do I respond?), the author assumes that the respondent will a) discern both questions; and b) answer both questions. Those are some big assumptions that ALMOST ALWAYS prove to be false, as most respondents will fail to recognize all of the different topics presented in their haste to get to the answering part and complete the Survey as quickly as possible. The most common result is partial or incomplete responses that answer only one component or the other.
We see this all the time at Maven and it is a recipe for crummy Survey results. There is no easier way to ensure that you don’t get answers to all of your questions than to combine them all into a smaller number of questions in a futile attempt to save time, space, or money. So don’t do it. Make each question stand on its own. One Question should always be One Question.