When writing your poll question, these are the common mistakes you should avoid to get quality and unbiased responses.
Mistake 1. Leading words
Your question may include a positive or negative bias — words that consciously or unconsciously lead the respondents toward a certain kind of answer. Avoid leading words that may sway the responses positively or negatively. Phrase your question objectively.
1. How much did you enjoy this YouTube video? (positive bias – implies that the viewer enjoyed it, and leads respondents to answer more favorably)
How to fix it: On a scale of 1-5, with 1 being the worst and 5 being the best, please rate this YouTube video.
2. A recent poll found 80% of Americans disagreed with this government policy. How unhappy are you about this policy? (negative bias – not only is the question phrased negatively, it also includes a statistic that shows many unfavorable views, leading the respondent to feel as though he or she should feel that way, too.)
How to fix it: Please rate your level of agreement with this government policy.
3. Should responsible parents vaccinate their children? (puts respondents on the defensive by insinuating that parents who do not vaccinate are irresponsible)
How to fix it: Do you think children’s vaccinations should be required?
Mistake 2. Making assumptions
Ensure your questions are fact-based, not opinion-based. Do not make assumptions about your audience.
1. Is your favorite color blue? (assumes the respondent’s favorite color is blue)
How to fix it: What color do you like the best?
2. As long as nobody minds, is it okay to smoke indoors? (assumes that nobody minds)
How to fix it: How do you feel about smoking indoors?
3. Where do you like to party? (assumes respondents like to party)
How to fix it: What do you like to do in the evenings?
Mistake 3. The double-barreled question
Test only one thing at a time. Do not use double-barreled questions because respondents will often only concentrate on the one topic that means the most to them. When creating comparisons between two creative options, include only one test parameter per question, such as layout, title, or color palette.
This poll would be less biased if each cover included the same title, subtitle, and author attribution. Then, the only test parameter would have been the cover design.
Here’s a better example. This author is testing two cover designs. The title, subtitle, author attribution, and even graphic layout is the same. The only difference is the “Action Plan” stamp. By only testing one thing at one time, this author knows the stamp helps his cover.
Note: Consistency is key in testing creative options. If you’re testing book covers, make sure that each design option includes the same information. If you tested two cover designs and each cover had a different title, for example, you wouldn’t know whether respondents preferred the design layout or the title on that design layout. Remember, only test one thing at a time.
You may need to experiment with the level of specificity in your question. Generally, the simplest form of the question will be the least biased. However, there are instances where you will need to direct the question a certain way rather than leave it open-ended. Just be sure to avoid the three common mistakes listed above.