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How to phrase questions and items

Some useful advice on how to formulate the questions you want to ask

The phrasing of questions is very important when it comes to constructing your study. You should think carefully about how to phrase your questions and items in order to collect results that are as unbiased as possible. Here are some simple rules to follow: 

  • Make sure that participants understand your question/item. A good way to ensure this is to pilot test your questions.
  • Avoid negative or double negative phrasing (e.g., use 'I am often happy' instead of 'I am not often sad')
  • Avoid ambiguous questions. This means that you ask only one question per item. Also, make sure that your question is phrased in a neutral way. For example, the adjectives 'fast' or 'nice' have a subjective meaning to every individual. Give examples for clarification when necessary. 
  • Avoid conditional sentences (e.g., 'I feel good if I play the piano')
  • Avoid overly general expressions (e.g., 'All children are noisy')
  • Make sure that your question/item matches the response format. For example, if you ask an open-ended question, you cannot choose a rating scale as the response format. 

Peterson, R. A.(2000).Constructing effective questionnaires. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

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