What are Ambiguous Questions

Ambiguous Questions

Ambiguous Questions – Definition

The definition of an Ambiguous Question within a survey is a question in which there is more then a single way to interpret it.  When a question is vague or generalized, this creates an ambiguous interpretation.

Ambiguous Questions – Examples

Let's look at the following for an example of an Ambiguous Question: Where do you like to shop? In this ambiguous question it is not exactly clear as to what kind of shopping you are referring to.  Are you asking where you like to do your regular grocery shopping?  Or perhaps where do you shop for gas?  or maybe it was even asking what online website you like to shop at.  The point being is that this ambiguous question leads the user to interpret a lot of different possibilities. This ambiguous question also did a poor job of explaining the criteria for “like”.  What exactly does “like” mean in this context?  Perhaps you are asking which store has to most selection or has the most courteous staff.  Perhaps you are asking which store has the most competitive pricing.

Ambiguous Questions – Corrected

What grocery store has the most selection when purchasing groceries? In this example the question is much more clear and does not present itself as an ambiguous question.  It is very clear that the store is referencing a grocery store where you purchase food.  It is very clear that criteria for the preferred store is based upon who has the most selection.

Ambiguous Questions – Why are they problematic?

The reason why Ambiguous Questions are problematic in surveys is because they allow the respondent to interpret the meaning of the question however they like.  They will then repsond to the question according to their interpretation.  When Ambiguous Questions are present in your survey they will create false data and cause you to draw conclusions based upon one meaning while the respondents actually responded to a different interpretation.

Ambiguous Questions – When are they OK?

There are times when Ambiguous Questions are appropriate in Surveys.  These are when you are specifically probing for general feedback about opinions and ideas.  One good example is during open ended research.  Perhaps you want to ask questions that deliberately do not limit the respondents response to a refined sub topic or item.  Just make sure that when you use Ambiguous Questions, you intend to have them.


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