This post was originally published on Evaluation into Action.

Do you believe this blog post will help you?

  • Yes

  • No

  • Maybe

That, my friends, is a leading question. If I as the survey writer put into the question what I think, I am on a subconscious (or maybe even conscience) level making it more likely that the survey taker will respond the way I want them to—in this case, it will lead them to answer ‘yes.’

Are you falling into the same trap with your questions? Take a minute, and dig out a survey you’re doing now or have done in the past. Review it, and look for any questions that start with ‘do you believe… or ‘do you think’ because they might be a leading question and might be skewing your survey responses. A big indicator that you might have a leading question in your survey if your response choices are ‘yes’ and ‘no.’

If you do this, don’t worry, you’re not alone. This is the most common mistake in survey design that I see. I have had the privilege of coaching a number of organizations on survey design, and one of the things I do is an in-depth survey review to uncover and avoid mistakes like these. And this particular mistake comes up a lot.

The good news is that there’s an easy fix to leading questions like this. Just remove it, and replace it with a scale. Like this:

What do you think about this blog post?

  • It’s very helpful

  • It’s helpful

  • It’s somewhat helpful

  • It’s not helpful

Another option is to simply offer an open-ended question, and remove the response options entirely. Make sure to leave plenty of room for a full answer:

  • What do you think about this blog post?

Do you see the difference between the earlier question and the rewrites? Seemingly small tweaks like this can help you make sure your survey is getting helpful, actionable data that you can use.

Avoid the common leading question mistake by re-wording your survey question to be objective, and offer a range of responses on a scale. I often do three point to five point scales.

Want more survey tips and tricks? My new book, Nonprofit Program Evaluation Made Simple, has an entire chapter dedicated to basic survey design. Every book comes with free access to a companion website that is full of downloadable templates, including a survey design template! Get your copy now on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble.

Want a survey review? Reach out, I’d be happy to help.

Want hands-on learning? Join me on Thursday, August 19 for Candid’s webinar, “Creating Quality Participant Surveys: What to Ask and How to Ask It,” to learn more about common survey design mistakes and how to avoid them. Register for the webinar.

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