Leading Questions: Definition, Characteristics and Examples

leading question

What are Leading Questions?

Leading question is a type of question that pushes respondents to answer in a specific manner, based on the way they are framed. More than often, these questions already contain information that survey creator wants to confirm rather than try to get a true and an unbiased answer to that question.

Biases can sneak up in the most unexpected ways and if these biases are present in the form of leading questions in a survey, the purpose of creating a survey is diluted, since the responses will be biased based on the leading question. These responses and collected data will not lead to insightful research reports and conclusions.

Poorly constructed survey questions can lead to undesirable answers. If a survey creator is unaware of biases while framing questions, then these biases reflect in poor decision making based on partially true data. This may result in adversely affecting an organization or business who use this data for research and business purposes.

Characteristics of Leading Questions

As mentioned in the earlier section, leading questions prompt the survey respondents to answer in a specific manner by including certain terms and phrases.

5 main characteristics that define leading questions:

  1. They are intentionally framed to cultivate bias in respondents so that the answers are according to the survey creators plan.
  2. The questions have an element of conjecture and assumption.
  3. Leading questions thrive on a respondent’s personal input.
  4. These questions are often asked to understand the consequences of a situation.
  5. They tend to be forceful in terms of obtaining feedback.

Types of Leading Questions

Leading questions change the survey results due to the inherent intent and tone of the questions. They can be divided into multiple types –

  • Leading questions based on an assumption: Asking questions on the basis of an assumption. In student surveys, questions created on assumptions may be present: “How much did you enjoy with your teachers during the sports day at school?” – Here it is assumed that all the students would have had a frolicking time with their teachers during the school sports day. Instead, a question such as the following could be included: “Share with us your experience at the sports day.”
  • Leading Questions based on interlinked statements: Ask questions that have two closely connected statements. Employee satisfaction surveys can have a leading question in the form of: “Most employees hate working for more than 10 hours a day…What do you have to say about it?” Here the work-life balance is interlinked with working fewer hours. Instead, “Would you prefer working for fewer hours, since your current work-life balance seems to be a problem.” will produce more impactful results.
  • Leading Questions based on a direct implication: Asking questions that make respondents consider the results that would eventually happen in case a particular incident happens. For example, in Conference feedback surveys – “If you enjoyed this conference, shall we conduct another conference in a similar manner?”.
  • Leading Questions based on coerciveness: Asking questions that force respondents to answer in an extremely forceful manner. Customer satisfaction surveys may have leading questions such as: “Your experience with our organization was satisfactory, wasn’t it?”.
  • Leading Questions based on tagging: The above question can also be considered to be another type of leading question: Tag Question. This question includes a phrase to prompt respondents to answer and most often include negative elements such as “Don’t you” or “Isn’t is”. Another example of a Tag Question is Website evaluation survey question, such as: “Our website was user-friendly and responsive, wasn’t it?”

What is a Biased Survey?

A biased survey is a survey that is bound to have errors due to:

  1. Survey design
  2. Leading questions asked in a survey

At all times, a survey creator should design and develop a survey, where the questions asked should not influence survey responses. A biased survey can lead to a higher dropout rate, as survey respondents lose interest in the survey.

A well-written survey question allows respondents to answer truthfully, without being pulled to one side or obvious biases. In simpler words, questions should not confuse respondents about which option to choose.

Good Examples of Leading Questions

Example: Did you like our excellent new offering?

Using “excellent” in the above question can lead to biases amongst respondents. A more neutral question would have been:

How would you rate our new offering?

  • Excellent
  • Very Good
  • Good
  • Average
  • Poor

Example: You are satisfied with our products, aren’t you?

This question generates a certain degree of confusion and eventually would have respondents succumb to an extreme answer option. A good survey design will not have a question that is highly likely to confuse respondents.  

The right question to ask in this context would be: How satisfied are you with our products?

  • Very Satisfied
  • Somewhat Satisfied
  • Neither Satisfied nor Dissatisfied
  • Somewhat Dissatisfied
  • Very Dissatisfied

Example: Do you always consume fast food? (Dichotomous Question)

Literally, this question would invariably lead respondents to answer no, even if they consume fast food a couple of times a week.

The right question to ask in this context would be: How frequently do you consume fast food?

  • Very Frequently
  • Frequently
  • Occasionally
  • Rarely
  • Very Rarely
  • Never

Learn more: Likert Scale Examples

How to avoid Leading Question?

  • Keep questions clear and simple while creating a survey, avoid leading the respondent to a specific answer, provide appropriate answer options and offer, “other” options to make sure the survey is easy to respond to.
  • To remove biases from leading questions, the survey creator can take an opinion from someone who is distant from a survey topic. It is always good to have an extra set of eyes scan through a survey to remove any biases before deploying a survey.
  • Avoid using jargon in questions, using terms that are technical in nature or difficult to understand can lead to leading questions. When respondents fail to understand the question, they choose an answer option that is best understood by them.

Final Thoughts

A survey creator must avoid asking leading questions to be able to get correct and truthful responses. To avoid biases in a survey, make sure to clearly state all answer options so that respondents can choose the best possible options for them. Make sure to include “Prefer not to answer option”. Many people tend to drop out of a survey if they are uncomfortable answering a certain question.

By practicing the attributes mentioned above, survey creators can avoid asking leading questions and practice consciously, the art of asking the right questions to create an effective research design for their organizations or businesses.  

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