What Is A Leading Question?

James Pithering
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The most important part of creating a survey or questionnaire is designing your questions. This is more complicated than it may seem at first glance and one way that many surveys fail is by using leading questions.

In this article, we will look at what a leading question is and the different types of leading questions there are.

What is a Leading Question?

What Is A Leading Question?

Let’s begin by explaining what a leading question is. 

These are questions that push, or lead, a survey respondent into answering a question in a particular way. This usually occurs because of how they are framed and the words that they use.

Instead of receiving a response that is natural and unbiased, the question will receive answers that have been influenced.

Leading questions are often the result of the survey creator’s biases. These can be conscious or unconscious biases and having leading questions in your survey will lower the quality and usefulness of the data that you collect.

It can also lead to more serious problems in the future. If responses are biased but important decisions are made because of them, this can have an adverse effect on a business and the decision it makes.

Characteristics Of A Leading Question

It can often be difficult to tell if a question you have written is a leading question or not.

Most leading questions share similar characteristics, however, so keep the following in mind while you write your survey and assess your questions.

The common characteristics include:

  • Intentionally framing the questions to create bias and get the answers the survey creator desires
  • Including conjecture and assumption in the question
  • Writing questions that need a respondent’s personal input 
  • Questions that focus on the consequences of an action
  • Forcefully asking for feedback

Some of these characteristics can be intentional, but many can slide into your wording without any conscious effort.

Types Of Leading Questions 

Let’s now look at the types of leading questions. We will also give examples to make these easier to understand.

1. Assumption-Based Leading Questions

These questions involve the preconceived notions of the survey creator. They commonly occur in surveys created to assess a consumer’s experience and opinion of a service, product, or process. 

For example:

  • How satisfied are you with our product/service/process?

This is a leading question because it assumes that the respondent was satisfied.

Although the respondent may be able to give a low score to say that they weren’t that satisfied, they can’t respond to confirm their dissatisfaction. Instead, you should ask “Were you satisfied with our product?”

  • Which product feature was the most useful?

This question assumes that the respondent found the features to be useful.

They may have been completely unsatisfied with the product and found it to be completely useless,  but the only way they will be able to answer the question will be to select a feature.

2. Leading Questions With Interconnected Statements

This type of leading question combines two statements that are closely related. The first of these is usually a statement that puts forward a particular point of view.

This can implant a bias in the head of the respondent and influence how they answer the question. The second statement is then the question itself.

This type of question is commonly seen in surveys that ask for respondents’ opinions on social and community issues. 

For example:

  • Many employees are happy to work overtime. Do you feel the same way?

This question starts by planting the idea that more employees are willing to work overtime than aren’t. It aims to get the respondent to agree with the opinions of others.

Instead, the question should ask “Would you be willing to work overtime?”

What is a Leading Question?

3. Direct Implication Leading Questions

Direct implication leading questions make respondents think about the future and what might happen if another condition is met first.

Instead of just asking a respondent’s opinion about something, it asks them to consider their reaction to something instead. You will often see this type of question used for experience-based questions.

For example:

  • If you like this movie, will you recommend it to your friends?

The question is whether the respondent will recommend the movie to their friends, but this is based on the implication that they will enjoy it.

It assumes there will be enjoyment and doesn’t give the respondent a chance to consider their reaction if they don’t enjoy the movie.

The question should be worded more simply as “Will you recommend this movie to your friends?” and asked only after the movie has been seen.

4. Coercive Leading Questions

These are some of the easiest leading questions to spot. They force the respondent to give a specific answer, which is usually a positive one.

They’re commonly used in customer satisfaction surveys and are ended with question tags.

For example:

  • You were satisfied with our service, weren’t you?

This question is quite aggressively worded and doesn’t give the respondent much opportunity to say that they weren’t satisfied.

The negative question tag at the end is especially leading. The question instead should read “Were you satisfied with our service?”

5. Scale-Based Leading Questions

These questions are a little different from the other leading questions. The actual question itself can be worded quite evenly, but the answers are unfairly weighted towards specific responses. 

For example:

  • How satisfied were you with our products?
  • Extremely satisfied
  • Satisfied
  • Somewhat satisfied
  • Somewhat dissatisfied
  • Dissatisfied

Here, we have five possible answers that are heavily weighted towards being positive.

Only two of the five can be considered negative and the strongest of these “dissatisfied” is not as strong as the strongest positive answer “extremely satisfied.” Instead, the answers should read something similar to:

  • Extremely satisfied
  • Satisfied
  • Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied
  • Dissatisfied
  • Extremely dissatisfied

Final Thoughts

In this article, we explained what a leading question is, explained their characteristics, and the different types of leading questions.

We also gave several examples so you could see leading questions in action. We hope this answered your questions.

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