Online Survey Pitfalls: Double Barreled Survey Questions

This is our last post in this week's series of online survey pitfalls as it refers to how to write a survey. Be sure to review the other four no-no's for writing survey questions:


Double barreled questions
A double barreled question is when you combine two questions into one. Survey creators will do this in an effort to reduce the number of question in their survey. Unfortunately, they're also drastically reducing the reliability of the collected survey data and the types of conclusions that can be drawn from survey data analysis. Like our other survey question pitfalls, you've probably seen examples in consumer questionnaires and employee feedback surveys you've been asked to complete.

I find double barreled questions are the easiest of the pitfalls to spot and correct.

Sample Customer Service Satisfaction Survey Question: How happy are you with your phone company's rates and customer service?
Sample Customer Service Satisfaction Survey Question

The problem with the double barreled question is there's no way to tell what the survey respondent was rating. Was the survey respondent very happy with the phone company rates, so they said they were somewhat happy? Did they average how they felt about the rates and the customer service? Did they only answer one of the questions? There's no way for you to know if you keep the two attributes together in one question. If you were simply to split this one question into two questions, you'll be able to draw accurate conclusions:

Sample Customer Service Satisfaction Survey Question: How happy are you with your phone company's rates?
Sample Customer Service Satisfaction Survey Question

Sample Customer Service Satisfaction Survey Question: How happy are you with your phone company's customer service?
Sample Customer Service Satisfaction Survey Question

To drive the point home, here's a second, trickier example of what not to do when it comes to writing survey questions:

Sample Market Survey Question: Network television should be more innovative in order to increase ratings.
Sample Market Survey Question

Double barreled questions are not always as obvious as the first example, although, I do find you see more of the first example than the second. As you'll see from the solutions, you really are asking two different things in the above question. First, you're asking if network television should be more innovative. Second, you're asking if innovation will increase ratings.

Sample Market Survey Question: Network televisions should be more innovative.
Sample Market Survey Question

Sample Market Survey Question: Network television could increase ratings by being more innovative.
Sample Market Survey Question

When writing survey questions, small differences make a big difference in the context of the question. Small differences also make a big difference in how a survey respondent reads and interprets your question. If you think about what you're after when you write survey questionnaires, you shouldn't have any problem avoiding the fiv survey question pitfalls.
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