The Art of Question Writing
On the face of it, asking questions is easy – after all we managed it from an early age without giving it a second thought. But when it comes to research, the stakes are far higher. The structure, tone and content of your questions will shape your outputs. So, they need to be right.
We’re going to explore some key principles to help you in your quest for meaningful insights.
1. Clarity and Precision
The first principle of solid question writing is clarity and precision, i.e. leaving no room for ambiguity. Think about how people might interpret your question – would definitions or extra context help to ensure clarity? Elaborate with concrete terms like times and numbers, to ensure that everyone is on the same page when answering.
2. Researchable and Feasible
Questions should be written in a way that allows for easy data collection and analysis within the constraints of available resources and time. Avoid questions that are too abstract or theoretical to investigate practically. If you’re struggling to word a question, you may need to rethink how you approach it entirely.
3. Avoiding Bias
Maintaining objectivity and avoiding bias is crucial in research. Biased questions can lead to skewed results and compromise the integrity of your research. Be aware of the language you use and any implicit assumptions within your questions. For example:
a) Biased: “How do you feel about the benefits of our new app??”
b) Unbiased: “What are the benefits and drawbacks of the new app?”
The second question removes bias by asking for objective observations and opinions rather than assuming a positive view of the app. It sounds simple, but you’d be amazed at how often we see variants of question A and one dimensional findings as a result.
4. Specificity and Scope
Striking the balance between being specific and not overly restrictive in scope is crucial. Overly broad questions can lead to overwhelming research and difficulty in drawing meaningful conclusions. Conversely, overly narrow questions restrict the potential findings. Using the right level of specificity is key.
5. Open vs. Closed Questions
Depending on the objectives, you may use open or closed questions. Open questions encourage participants to provide detailed responses, allowing for in-depth exploration of a topic without a rigid structure. Closed questions, on the other hand, provide predefined response options and are useful for quantifiable numbers. The choice between these question types should align with your research design and goals but ultimately you may end up using a mix of the two.
What about AI?
Time to address the elephant in the room and talk about AI. There are tons of tools out there to write brilliant research questions. And more often than not, they carefully navigate the above principles. However, they haven’t had the full brief from your client, so they only know part of that story. Therefore, by all means use AI as a start point if you wish, but make sure there is always a layer of human review and editing. As the old adage goes, your findings are only as good as the questions you base them on.
The Ultimate Art Form
The art of question writing is at the heart of effective research. Well-crafted research questions set the direction for your study, shape the data collection process, and ultimately determine the quality of your findings. By sticking to the principles above, you will build out a project that is both insightful and impactful. Remember that question writing isn’t one-size-fits-all; it should be tailored to the needs of each research project.
With Whycatcher, you’ll get our question-writing experts too! Our researchers love a good question design, so are poised and ready to help you nail your next project.