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Leading Questions: Meaning, Types & How to Fix Them

Parvathi Vijayamohan

31 January 2023

4 min read

Not all survey questions are created equal. Some questions can unintentionally bias the participants’ responses and lead them to answer in a certain way. These are known as leading questions, and they can seriously distort the results of a survey.

In this article, we will discuss:

What is a leading question?

A leading question is one that leads respondents toward a particular answer. By providing unnecessary information or suggesting the desired answer, they make it hard for respondents to give an unbiased response.

What is an example of a leading question? Well, a business may ask leading questions in order to increase the number of responses toward a particular goal. For example, if you worked at a renowned bank and wanted more customers to sign up for a new loan product, here’s a leading question you would ask:

“When would you like to sign up for <product name>?”

The goal of a survey is to gather unbiased and accurate information from respondents. So leading questions can severely impact the validity of survey results.

Types of leading questions (with examples)

There are six types of leading questions that researchers should be aware of in surveys.

Suggestive questions

  • One type is the suggestive question, which suggests a specific answer through language or tone.
  • For example, “Don’t you agree that Company X provides excellent customer service?”
  • Here, the use of “excellent” and rhetorical questioning pushes the respondent towards agreeing with the statement.

Presuppositional questions

  • Another type is the presuppositional question. It assumes something to be true and asks the respondent to agree or disagree.
  • An example is, “Since you are a frequent customer of Company X, you must be satisfied with their services.”
  • This question presumes that the respondent is a frequent customer and assumes their satisfaction with the company, leading them towards agreeing with the statement.

Complex leading questions

  • The third type is the complex question, where multiple questions are merged into one. This can confuse respondents and make it difficult for them to give a clear answer.
  • An example of a complex question could be, “Do you think Company X’s products are affordable and high-quality?”
  • Here, the respondent is asked to evaluate both affordability and quality in their answer, making it a complex and potentially leading question.

Direct implication questions

  • The fourth type of leading question is the direct implication question which follows an if/would logic. In other words, it tries to get respondents to consider an action that would happen if a condition is fulfilled.
  • An example of an implicative question can be “If you liked our service, would you recommend it to your friends?”
  • In short, this survey question is based on the implication that you will like their service.

Scale-based questions

  • The fifth type of leading question is also one of the most common. Scale-based leading questions use an unfairly balanced rating scale – one where one sentiment outweighs the other.
  • An example of a scale-based leading question could be How satisfied were you with our tech support?
  1. Highly satisfied
  2. Satisfied
  3. Somewhat satisfied
  4. Dissatisfied
  5. Extremely dissatisfied
  • While the scale appears to be objective, three out of five options mention the word “satisfied”. In other words, it is subtly designed to increase the number of favorable responses.

Coercive leading questions

  • The sixth type of leading survey question holds a metaphorical gun to the respondent’s head. In other words, it is designed to force respondents to agree with what the question is asking.
  • An example of this can be, “You will attend our next webinar, right?”
  • This question uses a statement with a question at the end (usually a negative such as ‘didn’t you? ‘won’t you?’). Due to this, it sounds more confrontational than other types of questions.
  • As a result, we rarely see it in surveys anymore unless it’s unintentionally asked.

Loaded questions V/s Leading questions

It is important to note the difference between loaded and leading questions.

While both can bias respondents, a loaded question includes emotionally charged language or implications that can provoke a strong reaction.

Quiz time! Which of the following is an example of a leading question?

A. “Don’t you think Company X’s products are garbage?”

B. “Do you think Company X’s products are affordable?”

Ready? The correct answer is B. The use of emotionally charged language in A (“garbage”) indicates a loaded question and can provoke an emotionally charged response.

Impact: 6 reasons to avoid asking leading questions

  1. For survey results to be valid and reliable, we should avoid leading questions. They can bias the responses of participants and ultimately impact the accuracy of the data.
  2. In addition, leading questions can affect the respondents’ satisfaction as they may feel pressured or forced to give a certain answer.
  3. Leading questions in surveys often result in higher abandonment rates. It would help if you had a larger audience to collect enough data, which can pose significant challenges.
  4. You’re also likely to dismiss anyone who gives you honest feedback because you already have an idea of what you want.
  5. By acting on this information, organizations won’t be able to make the improvements that customers and employees actually desire. This can hurt business profitability.
  6. In addition to being detrimental to improvement, false feedback is also unethical. Cross-checking the study’s claims, even for lay people, isn’t that difficult.

Related: Survey Bias: How to Stop Them from Creeping into Your Survey

3 tips for rephrasing leading questions

So how can researchers avoid leading questions in their surveys?

  1. One tip is carefully examining the language in the questions and rephrasing any suggestive or emotionally charged words.
  2. Include options for neutral responses to your survey question – especially scale-based and multiple-choice questions.
  3. Another helpful strategy is to have someone unfamiliar with the survey review the questions and point out potential biases or leading statements.
  4. Finally, researchers should strive to ask clear and concise questions that do not assume anything about the respondent’s beliefs or experiences.

Following these tips can help researchers create a survey with unbiased and effective questions.

Related: 10 Survey Best Practices You Can Put into Action

Wrapping Up

Overall, it is important for researchers to be aware of leading questions and how they can impact survey results.

By avoiding these types of survey questions, and implementing strategies to reduce bias, researchers can ensure the validity and reliability of their data. Happy surveying!

Parvathi Vijayamohan

Growth Marketer at SurveySparrow

Fledgling growth marketer. Cloud watcher. Aunty to a naughty beagle.

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