Phrasing questions for surveys and polls in the right way is an important task to get the most relevant information out of those. A yes or no question seems simple but you need to know when to use them properly.

A Yes or No question is not always a Yes or No question

One of the first things I noticed when I started looking through surveys was how frequently questions are formulated to only be able to be answered with either a Yes or a No. Sometimes it is entirely the right choice. But this manner of question is used far too often, which limits the results. The questions ”Are you the manager?” or ”Are you married?” are good examples where it is difficult to respond with anything other than Yes or No. Instead questions are often asked in a way which makes the respondents themselves interpret what the researcher meant. In these examples, it is quite obvious what ” the manager” and “married” mean as the concepts are widely accepted.

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An example which for me was equally strongly linked to Yes or No as the questions above was provided by a result I analysed. The question was, however, in the form of a statement and was worded; ”I was given an introductory course in safety when I did my initial training at my employer’s”. The scale used was one (1) to five (5) with an additional ”Don’t know” option. Only 50% of the responses were either a one (1) or five (5), which puzzled me. In this case, there were two different interpretations which the respondent was faced with.

What constituted an ”Introductory course in safety” or what constituted ”My initial training” was apparently not very clear, as the results showed. I would have formulated this question with the answer options Yes or No. The lesson is, therefore, that it is very important to be careful when assuming that the respondent understands what is meant by the content of a question.

What to think about when forming survey questions

Since different people and target groups perceive a question in different ways. It is important to reflect on the following when forming each individual question:

  • Adjust the difficulty level of the word you use to your target group
  • Use concepts that your target group is guaranteed to understand
  • Clarify words and concepts which need a more detailed explanation

Also, read more about why the respondent’s context is important, why it is a good thing to let the respondents create their own answer options and what to consider when using images in your surveys.