The Art of Asking Questions

The Art of Asking Questions: Studies in Public Opinion, 3

STANLEY LE BARON PAYNE
Copyright Date: 1951
Pages: 266
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zv5bc
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  • Book Info
    The Art of Asking Questions
    Book Description:

    While the statisticians are trying to knock a few tenths off the statistical error, says Mr. Payne, errors of tens of percents occur because of bad question wording. Mr. Payne's shrewd critique of the problems of asking questions reveals much about the nature of language and words, and a good deal about the public who must answer the poller's questions. For public opinion pollers, census takers, advertising copywriters, and survey makers of all kinds this book will be a tool for the achievement of more reliable results.

    Originally published in 1980.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5806-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Foreword (1980)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    George Gallup

    The proliferation of media-sponsored public opinion polls has made survey techniques and results familiar to many if not most Americans. The commercial television networks and many of the country’s leading newspapers and magazines have set up their own polling operations—of widely varying degrees of sophistication and competence—and give extensive news coverage to these survey findings. Contributing to broad public awareness and acceptance of public opinion polls has been the unprecedented number of state political primaries and caucuses that will be conducted this year, each of which has been or will have been subjected to some form of public...

  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Hadley Cantril

    Although a number of books have already appeared in the relatively new field of public opinion and market research, there is no book like this one. It is important and timely as well as unique. It deals with the warp and woof on which all surveys depend—the use of words.

    “Spoken language,” wrote Whitehead, “is merely a series of squeaks.” And anyone who reads what Mr. Payne has written here will get a concrete understanding of what Whitehead meant when he said that “Language … is always ambiguous as to the exact proposition which it indicates.”

    There has been...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Stanley L. Payne
  5. Table of Contents
    (pp. xv-2)
  6. 1. Why concern yourself? A PLEA FOR THE IMPORTANCE OF ASKING GOOD QUESTIONS
    (pp. 3-15)

    What is the need for this first book on question wording? No one else has considered it necessary to devote a whole book to the subject. A chapter or two has always seemed enough before. Articles of several pages frequently appear in professional journals here and there. What more can a book do for question wording? If it all boils down to the familiar platitudes about using simple, understandable, bias-free, non-irritating wordings, all of us recognize these obvious requirements anyway. Why say more?

    One reason for elaborating on the subject is that all of us, from time to time, forget...

  7. 2. May we presume? A LECTURE ON TAKING TOO MUCH FOR GRANTED
    (pp. 16-31)

    If all the problems of question wording could be traced to a single source, their common origin would probably prove to be in taking too much for granted. We questioners assume that people know what we are talking about. We assume that they have some basis for testimony. We assume that they understand our questions. We assume that their answers are in the frame of reference we intend.

    Frequently our assumptions are not warranted. Respondents may never before have heard of the subject. They may confuse it with something else. They may have only vague ideas about it and no...

  8. 3. Who left it open? A DESCRIPTION OF THE FREE-ANSWER QUESTION AND ITS DEMERITS
    (pp. 32-54)

    Many researchers feel very strongly about which type of question gives the most useful information. Some go so far as to take an almost proprietary interest in seeing that a particular type is used in every possible application. One school of thought contends that the free-answer type, to be discussed in this chapter, provides the most valid and uninfluenced results. Another school maintains that the two-way choice comes closest to the common decisions we have to make in everyday life. Yet another group asserts the superiority of the multiple-choice question, because it allows for gradations of feeling or for expressions...

  9. 4. Boy or girl? A DISCUSSION OF THE TWO-WAY QUESTION AND ITS DUPLICITIES
    (pp. 55-74)

    At the other extreme from the free-answer question is the two-way question. Sometimes called the dichotomous or the bifurcated type, the two-way question is one which is intended to suggest only two possible alternatives. Yes or no, approve or disapprove, for or against, favor or oppose, true or false, good or bad, head or tail, black or white, this or that, left or right, male or female, higher or lower, Democrat or Republican—all these are examples of the choices that may be given to the respondent.

    This type of question is by far the most commonly used of all....

  10. 5. Win, place, or show? A DISCOURSE ON THE INTERMEDIATE NATURE OF THE MULTIPLE-CHOICE QUESTION AND ITS MISCONSTRUCTIONS
    (pp. 75-99)

    Multiple-choice questions are useful in two situations. The first of these is the case where the issue clearly splits into more than two parts, as blonde, brunette, or redhead. The second is the case where gradations are asked for, as in very tall, tall, average, short, or very short. It may sometimes be difficult to distinguish between these two situations, but the distinction is not too important. Where either variety or degree is under consideration, the multiple-choice, or “cafeteria,” question has possible application.

    Of course, if the variety can be restricted to two choices like merit and seniority in the...

  11. 6. How else? DESCRIPTIONS OF SPECIAL TYPES OF QUESTIONS AND THEIR SPECIAL FAULTS
    (pp. 100-113)

    In addition to the three major types of questions—free-answer, two-way, and multiple-choice—a variety of other types of questions and combinations of questions should also be taken into account. Most of these other types utilize the fundamental concepts of the three we have already discussed, but they differ either in application or in purpose, and therefore are appraised separately in this chapter. Some of these other types deserve careful consideration in their own right. A few are of dubious value but nevertheless need to be understood if we are to have a complete grasp

    In testing knowledge of a...

  12. 7. Still beat your wife? A SERMON ON THE CARE AND TREATMENT OF RESPONDENTS
    (pp. 114-128)

    People are being exceedingly gracious when they consent to be interviewed. We may ask them to give us anywhere from a few minutes to many hours of their time in a single interview. We may ask them to expose their ignorance with no promise of enlightenment. We may try to probe their innermost thinking on untold subjects. We may sometimes request their cooperation before telling them who the sponsor is and before indicating the nature of our questions—for fear of prejudicing their answers. All this, yet they submit to being interviewed. And without promise of even a penny for...

  13. 8. Can you make it brief? AN ILLUSTRATED LECTURE ON THE VIRTUES OF BREVITY AND SIMPLICITY
    (pp. 129-137)

    That questions should be as short as possible and contain only simple words may seem entirely self-evident. This admonishment has probably been stated to question worders more often than any other. Yet little tangible evidence has been presented to show that brevity and simplicity are actually important. Consequently this basic rule may be overlooked too frequently.

    The purpose of this chapter is to emphasize by means of concrete illustrations the need for short questions made up of simple words. These examples which have recently been reported inThe Public Opinion Quarterly, should be a convincing demonstration of the problems associated...

  14. 9. What’s the good word? A FUTILE SEARCH FOR A LIST OF PERFECT WORDS, SUPPLEMENTED BY A LIST OF 1,000 WELL-KNOWN WORDS
    (pp. 138-157)

    At the end of this chapter you will find a list of words, which in a book like this you might guess to be an endorsed and approved list for question wording. Before you jump to that happy but unwarranted assumption, I earnestly urge that you read the preliminary discussion.

    Most question worders, myself included, would welcome a list of “good” words—words that could without question be used in any question. Essentially, these words should be both single in meaning and generally understood. “Almost,” “because,” and “I” are good examples. All three are in frequent use, all are readily...

  15. 10. What’s wrong with “you”? A ROGUE’S GALLERY OF PROBLEM WORDS, WITH CASE HISTORIES
    (pp. 158-176)

    In this chapter we shall concentrate our attention on the “problem” words which were just now pointed out in our list—the words designated by the *. The problems associated with these words are not all alike. Some are difficulties with the words themselves. Others result from the situations in which the particular words may be used. Some of the problems are perfectly obvious and hardly need mentioning except to make the record complete.

    Other problems described here may seem far-fetched and ridiculous, and perhaps some of them are. Still, although a particular word may be all right in 99...

  16. 11. Isn’t that loaded? AN ADMISSION OF GUILT, WITH EXTENUATING PARTICULARS
    (pp. 177-202)

    When we speak of a question’s being “loaded” or “leading,” we imply that it may lead some respondents to give different answers than they would give to another wording of what was intended to be the same issue. Having read the preceding chapters, you may already have been impressed with the difficulties in producing a question that is not loaded. It may be loaded on one side, it may be loaded on the other side, or it may be loaded about evenly. In any case, you can be practically sure that it is loaded. And no one can say once...

  17. 12. How does it read? A SHORT LESSON IN PUNCTUATION, PHONETICS, ABBREVIATIONS, ETC.
    (pp. 203-213)

    Questions which have taken into consideration all the factors already discussed may still contain certain more or less mechanical difficulties. Punctuation, emphasis, position of the alternatives, pronunciation, abbreviations, all may affect the answers to our questions. If all of our interviewers were to read each question in the same level monotone with the same sounds and at the same rate of speed, and if all respondents were to wait until hearing the entire question before formulating their answers, these items of mechanical construction would be of little consequence.

    Such is not the case, however. Some interviewers speak rapidly, some slowly....

  18. 13. Is it possible? A VISUAL DEMONSTRATION OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF A PASSABLE QUESTION
    (pp. 214-227)

    Now for an attempt at wording a question from the first statement of the issue to the point where it is ready for pretesting. Let us not make fools of ourselves, however. Just so that neither you nor I need feel self-conscious about the stupidities that may come to light, I suggest that we induce a third party to carry out the experiment for us. And I have a man in mind for the job, too. But I don’t want to embarrass him either, so I’ll conceal his identity by using only his initials, S. P.

    We ought to confront...

  19. 14. How’s that again? A CONCISE CHECK LIST OF 100 CONSIDERATIONS
    (pp. 228-238)

    Nobody wants to read through a book, even as small a book as this, every time he words a question. Yet, any one of the many factors we have considered here may be enough to make the difference between a useful question and one which is misleading.

    In this final chapter, therefore, I attempt to enumerate at least the most important features of question wording. A quick scanning of the items will help you make certain that every one of the features that applies has been given consideration in your questions. You can figuratively check them off one by one...

  20. References
    (pp. 239-242)
  21. General Index and Index of Examples
    (pp. 243-249)