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Double-barreled questions | How to avoid writing them

Asking double-barreled questions not only wastes your audiences’ valuable time; it costs you money. Running additional surveys to make up for the cost of having not done it right the first time will only inflate your research costs - and likely give you a splitting headache to go with it.

Adam R.
March 22, 2023

Double-barreled questions | How to avoid writing them

The way you phrase test questions in a survey is crucial in determining the value of your results. One of the biggest mistakes new researchers and veteran surveyors alike are prone to making: they ask a participant to answer two questions with one response.

For example:

  • On a scale of one to ten, rate your satisfaction with our restaurant’s atmosphere and customer service.
  • Were our employees friendly and dependable? 
  • Did you find everything you were looking for, and plan on coming back to shop with us again?

While it may feel like you’re getting the most out of your surveying budget by cramming multiple queries into a single question - you’re actually doing harm to your research.

Why double-barrel questions should be avoided

Questions that ask panelists to respond to two separate issues or topics with only one answer are known as double-barreled questions. The reason for such a name is obvious; you’re firing two questions at the participant at once. Most often, when researchers include double-barrelled questions in a study or survey, they are not aware of the mistake they’re making.

These types of questions dilute the quality of your research and invalidate your results. As participants can only select one answer for two questions, you can never be sure which question they hoped to respond to with their choice; therefore, you’ve effectively wasted their opportunity to answer two of your questions.

Asking double-barreled questions not only wastes your audiences’ valuable time; it costs you money. Running additional surveys to make up for the cost of having not done it right the first time will only inflate your research costs - and likely give you a splitting headache to go with it.

How to avoid creating double-barreled questions

The way to avoid creating confusing questions is simple: split your questions into two.

Instead of asking customers to answer:

  • Did you find our product to be helpful and unique?

Ask them:

  • Did you find our product to be helpful?
  • Did you find our product to be unique?

The part some researchers have trouble with is proofreading their surveys. Double-barrelled questions are easy to identify, once you know what they are; you simply have to review your surveys before sending them out. 

How to avoid creating double-barreled questions

Other types of questions you should avoid

As a survey designer, double-barreled questions are not the only mistake you need to be aware of. When designing your test, you should take care to avoid these common survey question errors:

  • Hypothetical questions

Hypothetical questions are often too abstract in nature for most customers to want to handle. Your survey questions should be direct and relevant, never asking “what ifs''. The more concise and pragmatic your question is, the better chances you have of your panelist providing a complete answer.

  • Taboo questions

Asking embarrassing or taboo questions can turn panelists away from wanting to answer your survey. The theory of social desirability bias asserts that people are more likely to answer survey questions in a way that makes them appear more socially accepted. If you plan on asking panelists to divulge potentially sensitive information, it is best to keep the results private - or allow them to submit their answers anonymously. 

  • Leading questions

A leading question is any that attempts to guide a participant’s decision, or push them towards a particular answer. Questions like, “How much do you love our product?” could instead be phrased more neutrally by saying, “How would you rate your enjoyment of our product?”

  • Questions with extreme language

Extremely positive or extremely negatively-worded questions - much like leading questions - attempt to pull a panelist towards one side of an argument. Researchers sometimes include these questions in their surveys in a misguided attempt to boost their customer satisfaction metrics; what they don’t understand is that these types of questions burn just as many panelists as they fool.

Questions like, “On a scale of 1-10, how undyingly loyal are you to our organization?” or perhaps “How would you rate our product compared to our competitor’s cheap imitation product?” should be avoided outright. They will sour your reputation with your customers, and the data you receive from these faulty questions will not be accurate or correct.

  • Failure to provide exhaustive answer sets

When asking panelists to respond to questions with a predetermined set of multiple choices, it is vital that you include an opt-out or neutral answer. When a panelist is unable to find a choice they feel represents their answer, then they either drop out of your survey or pick an incorrect/incomplete answer.

All of the answer choices we offer must be clear and distinct; including overlapping answer choices will dilute the quality of our results and confuse our participants. 

How to get the best results from your survey question

To get the most out of your surveys, you’re going to need to avoid including these aforementioned faulty questions. Double-barreled questions, leading questions, extreme or humiliating questions, and all the rest can spell doom for your survey results - if you’re not careful.

Here are some tips you can use when drafting survey questions:

  • Resist the temptation to try and trick panelists into giving you a more favorable response. Leading questions and questions with extreme language are unprofessional, ineffective, and likely to turn people away from wanting to answer future surveys from you.
  • Double & triple-check your survey questions. Proofreading your tests before they reach your audiences will save you money and spare you the embarrassment of running grammatically incorrect or faulty questions. 
  • Run your survey questions one at a time, with multiple sets of audiences. Testing survey questions in isolation allows you to tweak and develop your questions into something better. 

In summary

Writing survey questions is not always as straight-forward as it seems; the looming presence of faulty questions (like double-barreled questions) threaten to invalidate our survey results. So long as you are aware of what common mistakes to watch out for, the way to write effective questions becomes far clearer.

Proofreading your test questions, running single-question surveys, and removing improper questions are just a few simple ways you can dramatically improve the quality of your survey.

If you find yourself doubting whether or not your question is valid, return to this guide for reference - or visit our guide to survey question writing.

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