Will Changing Order Change Survey Answers?

The order in which questions are asked in your web surveys can influence the results of your survey.  For this reason you should group your questions into logically coherent sections.   Grouping questions that are similar together will make your survey easier to complete for your respondent.  As will grouping questions with a similar format. Your transition from one question to another should be smooth. A poorly constructed survey will confuse your respondents,  bias their answers, and jeopardize the quality of your work.

The following are some guidelines for  sequencing questions for a research survey:

  • Introductory Questions – These questions should stimulate interest without being difficult to answer.  Make the first question related to the stated subject matter.  This should be simple and straightforward.  Pretend you’re having a conversation with someone for the first time and you do not want to offend or bore them.
  • Sensitive Questions – Place these late in the survey.  If rapport is established then there is a greater likelihood that the respondent will be willing to answer these questions.
  • Related Questions – Grouping related questions together gives the respondent a chance to concentrate on specific issues without being distracted.   At the same time remain cognizant of arranging consecutive questions that evoke reflexive (given without adequate thought) responses together.
  • Logical Sequence – There should be a clear logical order to the particular series of questions that are being asked.  Questions should be arranged in a sequential or temporal order.

Context effect describes the influence of environmental factors on one’s perception of a stimulus.  Context effect in surveys involve how responses can be shaped by the order of questions, format of responses, and any visual images. Respondents rely on their own unique evaluations, impressions, values, and beliefs when formulating answers.   The context of a question influences what a respondent considers as they answer that question. A question’s context can affect a respondent’s answer by suggesting a standard of comparison.

The use of images in web based surveys may affect respondent’s answers.   One study measured the effect of showing respondents an image of a healthy woman exercising versus a sick woman in bed and then asked them to rate their own health.  When shown the healthy woman respondents consistently rated their own health lower than when exposed to the image of the unhealthy woman.  Three different surveys were used with varying factors such as size and placement of the image and also the location of the question in the survey.

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