dem-vs-gop“The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.”

So says Thomas Berger, the American novelist and author of Little Big Man.

This fits well with our core philosophy: asking great questions leads to better business results.

And it’s a great lead-in for this month’s blog post about the basic principles of writing questions for public release studies:

Binary is Better. Yes, we researchers all love the granularity of 5- to 10-point scales, but they make reporting more complicated.

Journalists and the public do not know how to report on top two boxes and bottom two boxes – or even averages. Scale points need to be written out to make things clear – like, “58% are extremely likely or very likely to shop on Black Friday.”

Not exactly crisp writing.

And don’t even think about using mean scale ratings (and if you don’t know what these are, then you get the point).

Logica Research ’s EVP John Gilfeather’s daughter once did a study in which people rated Democrats and Republicans on a 10-point scale. One reporter picked up the story and wrote that Republicans were meaner than Democrats because Republicans had a higher mean scale rating.

The moral of the story is to stick to binary choices whenever you can: yes/no, favor/oppose, debit/credit. You get the point.

Eschew the namby pamby. Sorry to use a complicated technical term here, but bland is boring and bold is beautiful.

If you want to make news, you need to be newsworthy.

Instead of asking if Corporation A’s management made bad decisions in a crisis, how about asking if Corporation A’s top executives are idiots?

That will get attention.

Watch Your Hygiene. If you’re not vigilant, nasty things can creep into your questionnaires.

Beware of:

• Double-barreled questions. “I feel happy because my money is safe” doesn’t work because I could be happy for lots of other reasons. Or, my money could be safe and I’m not happy.

• Leading questions. “Tell me about your wonderful experience at the park” introduces just a wee bit of bias into the questionnaire.

• Double Negatives. “When you are not driving your car, which of the following things are you not likely to do” might get some answers, but heaven knows what they will mean.

There are more hints, and best practices about research for public release in our complimentary tutorial, “Survey Says.”

If you are interested in more information about this tutorial, or if would like to schedule your complimentary session, please e-mail us.

We’ll sign off this month with a pertinent quote from Diane Sawyer, “Great questions make great reporting.”

No question about it!

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