Biased Survey Questions: What Is a Double-Barreled Question? How Can I Avoid It?

There are several kinds of biased questions that ruin the validity of a survey. One of the most common is a double barreled question.

The language used in a survey – both for the questions and answer options – is critical. Sometimes, researchers inadvertently use questions that not only confuse but also mislead respondents into making inaccurate choices. In doing so, they compromise the results of the survey and risk derailing important business decisions.

Here, we will delve into double-barreled questions to help you avoid them.

 

What Is a Double-Barreled Question?

Eliminating a double-barreled question in a survey

A double-barreled question is one of the most common mistakes that can ruin the integrity of your survey. It’s a question that touches upon two issues, yet only allows a single answer. Simply put, it pertains to two different questions that are rolled into one.

Whether made intentionally or as a result of carelessness, it messes up a survey’s accuracy. It leads to imprecise results as respondents can only answer one of the two issues. At the same time, researchers have no way of knowing which one is being answered.

More than often, we can identify a double-barreled question by the use of the conjunction “and.” 

Take note that the use of this conjunction doesn’t necessarily indicate that a question is biased. But if you’re scanning your survey for double-barreled questions, it’s a great place to start. 

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Examples of Double-Barreled Questions

Double-checking survey for double-barreled questions

If a survey question contains two issues, respondents are forced to answer two different questions at once. In this case, there’s no way of knowing what the respondent was evaluating—the rates or customer service?

Let’s take a look at some examples.

Bad question: How satisfied are you with our rates and customer services?

Sometimes, double-barreled questions require respondents to rank two issues in one question. In this case, we’re asking respondents about the rates and customer services.

Even though you need to gauge the satisfaction rates of both variables, you can’t measure them accurately by combining them into one question. After all, respondents may have different answers to these two questions.

To acquire more accurate results, it’s best to break up the question into two parts.

  • How satisfied are you with our rates?
  • How satisfied are you with our customer services?

Bad question: How relevant will our product be for millennials and baby boomers?

Aside from presenting different issues, you can create double-barreled questions by giving respondents two unrelated groups to consider. It’s nearly impossible for respondents to answer the question, given that they’re being asked to provide a single answer for the two potential markets mentioned.

A more reliable way to capture accurate results is to eliminate the double-barreled question by splitting it into two—one measuring the relevance of your product to the millennial market and the other measuring its relevance to the boomer market.

  • How relevant will our product be for millennials?
  • How relevant will our product be for baby boomers?

Bad question: How likely are you to buy our product again and refer it to a friend?

Combining two different questions that may elicit unique responses when asked separately is an easy way to ruin your survey results. This double-barreled question example asks about two different issues: repurchases and referrals.

Some respondents will be giving more weight to the first issue, which is their likelihood of repurchasing the product. Others will be answering the latter, which is their likelihood of referring it to a friend. 

So, how can we get more accurate results?

Again, we can ask separate questions to gain accurate measurements for each issue; one measuring the possibility of repurchase and one measuring the possibility of a referral.

  • How likely are you to buy our product again?
  • How likely are you to refer our product to a friend?

 

Why Should You Avoid A Double-Barreled Question?

Skewed results because of a double-barreled-question

Double-barreled questions confuse and mislead respondents. Thus, it’s not surprising that biased surveys tend to have higher dropout rates. However, even if respondents answer every question you’ve prepared, a biased survey can’t produce useful or valuable insights. 

Well-written survey questions focus on one thing—and one thing only. If a question seeks to measure two unique variables, it’s impossible for a respondent to answer it accurately.

By avoiding common survey biases such as the double-barreled question, you can acquire accurate data that can inform important business decisions. You gain actionable insights that can impact your business. At the same time, your respondents will feel confident about sharing honest feedback.

 

Other Biased Questions 

Biases can sneak up in all sorts of ways in a single survey. As mentioned, a double-barreled question is just one of the many mistakes that researchers often commit when running surveys. There’s a whole range of biased questions that you should strive to avoid.

Here are the most common pitfalls.

Leading questions

A leading question is arguably the top survey mistake. It uses biased language to persuade respondents into choosing a particular answer. Although it seems harmless, it can tamper with the results of your survey, much like a double-barreled question.

Non-neutral wording is a dead giveaway for a leading question. If a question qualifies as so, you need to rewrite it using neutral language and eliminate potential bias. 

Double-barreled questions require one answer for a question of two

Aside from leading questions, you have to watch out for biased responses. For instance, you might offer more positive options than negative ones. In doing so, you’ll be forcing respondents to lean towards particular answers. 

Examples of leading questions:

  • Were you satisfied with our exceptional winter promo?
  • Our new app is more user-friendly and responsive, isn’t it?
  • Was our excellent customer support satisfactory?

You can prevent leading questions by using clear and simple language. Also, don’t refrain from using adjectives such as excellent and amazing as they’re likely to influence the responses of your audience.

Assumptive questions

An assumptive question contains assumptions about respondents’ habits or perceptions. Like a leading question, it inadvertently persuades them to answer a question in a certain way. However, they’re a bit trickier to spot.

Reviewing surveys to spot biases like double-barreled questions

To identify assumptive questions, you should read the entire survey before running it. You can also do pretests to make sure respondents can answer your survey honestly. 

All of the questions listed below require qualifying information. Without that information, they might not apply to your respondents. 

Examples of assumptive questions:

  • Where do you buy your wine?
  • How often do you go to the park when you’re feeling stressed at work? 
  • How often do you do yoga?

When it comes to survey design, never assume anything about your respondents. You don’t know if they drink wine, take walks in the park, or do yoga. 

The Opinion Stage online survey maker leverages branch logic to tailor questions based on respondents’ previous answers. With this intuitive solution, you can personalize each survey, collect more accurate data, and make smarter business decisions.

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Absolute questions

Sometimes, a yes or no question prevents respondents from providing accurate feedback. An absolute question comes with words such as always, every, all, and ever. Using this kind of wording makes questions too rigid. As a result, respondents are forced to pick an answer that doesn’t reflect their opinion or situation. 

Let’s say you want to know more about specific consumer habits for marketing purposes. Instead of a yes-no question, you can present a variety of options that will make respondents more comfortable with their answers. 

Examples of absolute questions:

  • Do you always eat breakfast before work?
  • Are you always shopping online?
  • Do you always pay with cash?

Absolute questions aren’t ideal for surveys as they produce imprecise results. Instead, phrase survey questions in a way that would allow a range of answers. 

 

Avoiding Biased Questions

Check for any double-barreled question

Poorly-designed surveys can produce inaccurate and undesirable results. To eliminate bias, you must first be aware of the potential mistakes you can make while creating your questions. You might already have an idea of the questions you want to ask. However, how you phrase these questions will make the difference between a good and bad survey. 

To prevent biases and the loss of actionable insights, it’s imperative that you do the following processes.

  • Set up quality checks throughout the survey design process, especially if critical business decisions depend on the results of your survey. 
  • Pretest your survey, so you can make sure that everything makes sense. 

Keep in mind that a well-written survey enables respondents to answer questions truthfully, without being persuaded to answer in a particular way. More importantly, they should feel comfortable and confident with their answers.

Opinion Stage’s intuitive survey maker has a series of templates that help you make unbiased questions that produce accurate and actionable results. 

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