General principles when writing questions

  • Avoid leading questions: “Wouldn’t you say that…”, “Isn’t it fair to say…”
  • Be specific: Avoid words like “regularly”, “often”, or “locally” - as everyone’s idea of what is regular, often or local will be different.
  • Avoid jargon and colloquialisms: This may confuse the meaning of the question.
  • Avoid double-barrelled questions: “Do you enjoy playing badminton and tennis?” or “Do you agree with the recommendations of the Stern Review on the economics of climate change?” Ask for one piece of information at a time.
  • Avoid double negatives: Instead of asking respondents whether they agree with the negative statement, “Smoking in public places should not be abolished”, use the positive “Smoking in public places should be abolished”.
  • Minimise bias: People sometimes answer questions in a way they perceive to be socially acceptable. Make it easy for respondents to admit social lapses by wording questions carefully. For example, “How many times have you broken the speed limit because you were late?” could be rephrased, “Have you ever felt under pressure to drive over the speed limit in order to keep an appointment?” Then you could ask, “How many times have you prioritised the appointment over keeping the speed limit?”
  • Handling difficult or embarrassing questions: To encourage a greater response to difficult questions, explain why you need to know that information:“It would be very helpful if you could give us some information about yourself to help us put your answers in context.”
  • Ensure options are mutually exclusive: “How many years have you worked in academia: 0-5, 6-10, 11-15, over 15.” Not “0-5, 5-10, 10-15…”