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Survey tip 4: Avoid stimuli and negatives!The question...
Do you like listening to music by Chopin?
contains a single concrete stimulus, which is "listening to music by Chopin", and can be answered immediately with "yes" or "no", depending on whether or not you like listening to music by Chopin. If a second stimulus were to be added, creating a double stimulus, the question becomes confusing. The question...
Do you like listening to music by Chopin and Wagner?
is not in itself absurd because Chopin and Wagner are both great masters of classical music. However, the question is not about classical music, but rather about quite different types of composer. This is why the question cannot be answered clearly, if, for example, you like music by Chopin, but donít like listening to music by Wagner. "Chopin yes, Wagner no" could be a possible correct and conceivable answer. As the respondent may only answer with a "yes" or "no" we do not know if "yes" means that they like listening to Chopin and Wagner or if they are just reacting to one of the stimuli with a "yes" Ė if so, which one are they reacting to? If you want to ask about both masters there is no other option but to ask two questions:
"Do you like listening to music by Chopin?" with the answer categories "yes" and "no" and
"Do you like listening to music by Wagner?" also with two answer categories "yes" and "no"
A double stimulus is a "technical" error when formulating questionnaires. A further "technical" error which often occurs can be questions with a linguistically negative formulation (Please note: not to be confused with negative content and linguistically positive items such as "I hate my job" or "I donít like doing favours for others").
Linguistically negative formulations lead to confusion in respondents because it is often unclear how they should answer in order to put across their position. Letís take the following example of a question which is to be answered using a scale:
"It is not good when children contradict their parents." with an answer scale of 1 = "I do not agree at all" to 7 = "I agree completely".
If someone is of the opinion that it is good when children contradict their parents, they must Ė if they have understood the logic of the procedure correctly Ė select "I do not agree at all". This is made even more complicated in the case of double negatives:
"It is not good when children do not obey their parents". With the same answer scale.
Where do I put my answer if I think it is good when children obey their parents?
It is much simpler without linguistic negatives:
"It is good when children contradict their parents." or
"It is good when children obey their parents."
Now the statements are formulated in a linguistically positively way and the scale can be used to assess the content negatively.
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Last updated: 03.12.2023