This is where the 5 Ws come in - when, why, what, who, where? Open-ended questions are key to gathering the right response. Instead of asking whether a respondent likes a particular flavour, it should be rephrased to ask what they think of that flavour instead, and if required, using a quick prompt to garner more detail - why? It’s simply a matter of adjusting how questions are worded. A moderator should always consider whether their question can be answered with a simple yes or no - if it can, it’s time to rethink.
Leading respondents is bad market research, and no moderator worth their salt will do it. It contaminates the outcome and invalidates any answer received, leaving the client with bad data. Positive and negative words should be removed from questions as much as possible, persuasive techniques are to be avoided, and awkward or unclear phrasing is a definite no-go.
In 1974, Loftus and Palmer carried out a study to examine how eyewitness testimony can change as a direct result of leading questions. Forty-five students were gathered to watch seven films of car accidents, before being asked to estimate the speed of the vehicles. Each respondent was asked the same thing, but with one word altered:
“About how fast were the cars going when they (smashed / collided / bumped / hit / contacted) each other?”
They found that respondents were likely to estimate a higher speed for the more aggressive verbs (“smashed”, “collided”), but guess lower when neutral alternatives were used (“bumped”, “contacted”), despite having all watched the same videos.
This demonstrates that phrasing is extremely important when it comes to getting firm responses. Raw opinions are more malleable than people realise, and using the wrong vocabulary could potentially cost your client thousands in badly researched marketing.
There are always exceptions to the rule; if a respondent takes you somewhere first, don’t be afraid to then use more specific questions to dig a little deeper - as long as they have reached those initial conclusions on their own.
Respondent: I find this flavour delicious.
Moderator: Why is it delicious? What makes it so delicious?