Yes, There is Such Thing As a Bad Question!

By Andy Beaubien, BPR

Has someone ever asked you a question and your response is something such as “Could you be more specific?” or “I don’t understand.” This happens commonly in everyday life. It also happens in the research world… and frequently! 

By its nature, radio is a difficult subject to discuss with radio listeners. For one thing, radio is invisible. Listeners cannot see the person to whom they are listening or visualize the source of the sound coming out of the speakers or headphones. To further complicate matters, radio is not a top priority in the life of its listeners. Most people take radio for granted. It is just there. You can use it as background. You can ignore it.

When conducting audience research, the task of the researcher is to make the survey respondents think about the radio stations that they listen to. For some people, it may be the first time that they ever have actually discussed their radio listening preferences with anyone. In real life, people talk about politics, their job, children, the cost of goods and services, etc. How often do you overhear someone talking about radio?

Let’s get back to audience research. When creating a radio survey questionnaire, there are some important but basic rules. Here are just a few…

  1. Keep it simple and brief. Short questions are almost always better than long ones.
  2. Avoid compound questions. An example: “In your opinion, are the presenters on station X friendly, intelligent and easy to listen to?” This is a difficult question because listeners may associate a presenter with one or two of these criteria but not necessarily all three.
  3. Avoid “fantasy” questions. It is very difficult for the average listener to imagine something that they have never heard. Question: “If a new station came on the air in your area and plays music that combines jazz, rock, r&b and pop, how likely is it that it would become your favorite station?” A radio programmer may have a concept of what that station might sound like but a typical listener is at a complete loss.
  4. We should not expect listeners to answer questions about programs or presenters that they probably have never heard. Even if a person is a regular listener of a particular station, only a small percentage of the station’s listeners will have heard a program that airs only once per week or worse airs late at night or at a time of day when listening levels are low. Expect a lot of “don’t know” responses.
  5. Do not ask questions written in such a way as to almost guarantee a likely answer. Example: “When you tune to a station for music, do you want to hear a lot presenter talk?” If someone tunes to a station to hear music, the likelihood that they will want to hear a lot of presenter talk is very low. In other words, it is a foregone conclusion.
  6. Avoid questions with inconsistent, unrelated or contradictory answer options. Example: “How would you rate the topics discussed on station X’s breakfast program?” Answer options: “Very interesting, good, worse, terrible, don’t know.” 

These are just a few examples of research questions that fail to render useful information. When considering a question for your next audience survey, ask yourself “If someone were to ask me this question, how easy would it be for me to answer it?” Of course, your BPR specialist will always be available to help you properly design question/answer combinations for your survey. The end goal is to always ask questions that deliver clear and actionable results.


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