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The wording of a question is extremely important. Researchers strive for objectivity in surveys and, therefore, must be careful not to lead the respondent into giving a desired answer. Unfortunately, the effects of question wording are one of the least understood areas of questionnaire research.

Many investigators have confirmed that slight changes in the way questions are worded can have a significant impact on how people respond. Several authors have reported that minor changes in question wording can produce more than a 25 percent difference in people's opinions.

Several investigators have looked at the effects of modifying adjectives and adverbs. Words like usually, often, sometimes, occasionally, seldom, and rarely are "commonly" used in questionnaires, although it is clear that they do not mean the same thing to all people. Some adjectives have high variability and others have low variability. The following adjectives have highly variable meanings and should be avoided in surveys: a clear mandate, most, numerous, a substantial majority, a minority of, a large proportion of, a significant number of, many, a considerable number of, and several. Other adjectives produce less variability and generally have more shared meaning. These are: lots, almost all, virtually all, nearly all, a majority of, a consensus of, a small number of, not very many of, almost none, hardly any, a couple, and a few.

 

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