The process of collecting event feedback is a dialogue between you and each of your students. And like in every dialogue, there can be misunderstandings. Due to the indirect form of your conversation, they become even more troublesome than usual.
Since you communicate via a questionnaire, you don’t have a second chance to explain yourself and need to do your best from the start.
Your challenge as an interviewer is to keep the number of potential threats to mutual understanding to the minimum. Carelessly asked questions influence respondents’ attitude and prevent them from submitting honest impressions. In many cases, they don’t even notice that their responses are biased.
The sad truth is that eliminating biases completely is next to impossible as you cannot predict the reaction of each person. Still, the influence of some factors can be reduced or even completely eliminated.
The easiest ones to spot and get rid of are question-related biases. You are the one who writes the questions so if you know where to look, you will be able to avoid the most common pitfalls.
It combines two questions in one and asks to give one answer to both. This type is easy to miss because adding more information often seems like a good idea.
This sentence asks about two different matters - effectiveness of the materials and their structure. It’s not necessarily that both of them are on the same quality level. A student might find materials extremely helpful, but not very well organized so they will be at a loss what to answer. And when you will be reading their replies, you also won’t be able to pinpoint which of the two matters caused problems.
What to do? Try to be concise and simple whenever possible. Stay away from long descriptions that use several words to define one point. Make sure that you address only one side of the topic in each field.
To check yourself, imagine how you would be analyzing results. If you receive a negative answer, will you be able to understand where the problem lies?
They may not be so frequent as double-barreled questions, but it’s still worth keeping them in mind.
Absolutes include such words as “all, always, every, none, never”, etc. These ultimate terms carry an extreme connotation making people want to deny it.
This one sounds a little bit too pushy. If a student liked only some of the tasks, their first impulse will be just to say No, without looking at the other options.
For someone, it might sound almost like you are accusing them of not participating in your events earlier. And that’s not a very motivating feeling.
What to do? It’s best not to use absolutes in your form except when it’s unavoidable. In most cases, these words can be omitted or the sentence can be rephrased.
It’s more of a hidden confirmation than a real question. You have a statement that you want to be confirmed or denied so you ask it in a way that leads to a certain answer.
It’s obvious from this sentence what answer is expected. You risk receiving negative feedback or no answer at all because no one likes being manipulated.
The example above expresses an interviewer's preferences explicitly. But not all leading questions are that obvious:
On the first glance, there are two choices - old and new programs. But are there really? This sentence clearly favours the new program by emphasizing that it was enhanced, thus implying that it’s more effective. Whether your respondents subconsciously follow the lead or realize it - the outcome will be biased anyway.
What to do? It’s understandable that you have your own preferred answer for each of the questions, but staying impartial when asking for feedback is the best course to get unbiased results.
Carefully check if you give respondents enough freedom. Do not include your personal opinion keeping the sentences neutral.
They are similar to the leading questions as they imply the direction of an answer too. Unlike the former, they do not lead to a particular reply but contain an assumption instead.
The interviewer is certain that all students have enjoyed the event and all that’s left is to find out to what degree. What if someone did not enjoy it at all? Even if you include the corresponding option in the list of responses, the question will still leave a negative impression.
What to do? The countermeasures are similar to those for leading questions - take all possible outcomes into account and stay neutral allowing respondents to decide for themselves.
Under this scary name lies a simple yes/no question. Dichotomous questions always have only two possible answers, and yes/no are the most frequent options.
Using two definite options is tempting because it makes analysis of the results an easy task. But at the same time, it backs some of the respondents into a corner. They won’t be able to give a reply if they have not decided on their future attendance yet. Consequently, they will either drop out or pick an answer randomly.
What to do? Include the middle option that expresses the uncertainty or neutral position - for example “Maybe”. Or give a way out by adding the “I don’t know” answer. It’s not that convenient for analysis, but provides a suitable choice for those who do not have a clear opinion on a matter.
In contrast with the previous types of biases that limit respondents’ freedom, these questions give too much of it.
Vague words include anything that can be interpreted in different ways: good, bad, interesting, many, etc. People define them depending on their values, beliefs, experience, and goals. If you use these words in your questionnaire, there is a high chance that each of your respondents will be answering their own question and you won’t know which one.
Are you sure that you and your students have the same understanding of success? For you, the criteria might be delivering new knowledge and teaching new skills. And for others, it might be an engaging and lively discussion or the level of organization.
What to do? Focus on the qualities and parameters that matters the most for you and ask as precisely as you can. Try not to leave the room for different interpretations that will make respondents feel confused and frustrated.
It will be harder for biased questions to get in your way if you stay alert of them. Do not forget to step back every now and then and to look at your survey from your respondents’ perspective.
There is no doubt that being impartial when asking about your own event is difficult. You have put so much effort into it and you are rooting for its success.
But that’s exactly why you have to keep your head cool and your questions neutral. The more accurate data you receive, the faster and easier it will be for you to lead your future events to success.
With Workshop Butler, you can share your form with your colleagues and ask for their impression on it. Fighting biased questions together is always more effective.
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