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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Book Review: Asking Questions


Asking Questions by Doctors Norman Bradburn, Seymour Sudman and Brian Wansink delves deeply into developing useful surveys for business, marketing, customer service, political and academic research purposes. The book provides an overview of how questions on surveys influence results. Developing strong survey questions will encourage more accurate and valid responses that accurately reflect the construct the researchers are trying to measure. The book will move you through three parts:

Part 1: Strategies for Asking Questions: Understanding the wider social context and cultural aspects of questions is important for understanding how those questions are interpreted. For example, developing questions about finance, sexual behavior, criminality, and very personal issues may lead to incorrect data. Different cultures will have varying viewpoints on which questions are appropriate and which ones are not. Understanding how questions are perceived from a cultural background or demographic can help in wording those questions properly and making them less stigmatizing. 

Part II: Tactics for Asking Questions: The way in which questions are worded and asked can have a huge impact on the actual results of the surveys. When possible such questions should be neutral and asked in different ways to ensure that they are not leading the answers. Leading answers means that more people will pick a particular response due to the way a question is asked. It is also important to have multiple forms of the question to help lower that chances that the questions were misunderstood and asked inappropriately.

Part III: Drafting and Crafting the Questionnaire: The final section of the book deals with concepts such as font size, color of paper, how it is to be administrated, websites, and other things thought about before the administration page. Even though these things may not seem that important they can change the nature and response rate of the questionnaire. If participants can’t understand the high language or see the font it is certainly going to impact the studies success.

A large percentage of research is conducted using surveys. We see these surveys in the news, within companies, political associations, and at colleges. How these surveys are developed often determine their overall validity. We should not expect every survey to necessarily be valid and truthful unless it is designed and administered in the right way. This means that what we perceive as accurate may not be accurate at all.  If you plan on conducting your own research it is beneficial to pick up this book when building your survey and a different statistical book when trying to determine how to validate that survey.  This book provides a strong list of references as well as non-for-profit and academic survey contacts.

Bradburn, B., Sudman, S. & Wansink, B. (2004). Asking Questions: the definitive guide to questionnaire design, for market research, political polls, and social and health questionnaires. San Francisco, CA; John Wiley & Sons.  ISBN0-7879-7088-3
Pages: Approximately 416

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