The Dos and Don’ts of Effective Discussion Guide Writing, Part 2: Wording and Language

Writing and designing a good discussion guide is crucial for any research study. From question order to language used, there are several factors to consider in order for the study to yield useful and accurate results. Neglecting the importance of a well-designed discussion guide can be the difference between rich consumer feedback and confused, illogical, empty responses.

In part one of our discussion guide series, we talked about the importance of question order and flow when crafting a discussion guide. (You can check out the previous blog here.) For this second part, we’d like to share some tips to keep in mind throughout the research design process as they relate to language and wording specifically.

When it comes to the diction used in research, the main goal should be that all respondents understand and interpret the questions in the same way and are encouraged to give honest, accurate answers.

One of the biggest mistakes made in research is using overly complicated or advanced words. Don’t make respondents work hard to comprehend a word or question you’re asking. When you use complex words, you run the risk that respondents’ answers will not address the objective; if they do not clearly understand what you are asking, they won’t be able to answer in a helpful, accurate way.

 – By asking, “Would this sandwich satiate your hunger or would you supplement it?” you are forcing respondents to define multiple words. In order to answer this question in a helpful way, the respondent needs to understand the word “satiate,” which may not be a familiar word. As a result, the responses could be more vague, since respondents are not exactly sure what you are expecting them to discuss.

– Instead, it would be better to use, “Would this sandwich fill you up if you ate it for lunch or would you expect to eat something else with it?” Instead of spending time determining what you’re asking, respondents are using that thought power to formulate a response to your question and provide details and specific examples as opposed to a broad, general answer due to confusion around the actual topic.

Another crucial item to consider when crafting questions is to ensure that everyone will interpret the question the same way. This comes up often when asking generic frequency questions, discussing averages, or anything else that each respondent can personally define differently.

✖ – Consider this question: “Do you frequently give your child cereal for breakfast?” Here, you are asking respondents to use their own internal knowledge and experience to determine what “frequently” means. Frequently to some moms may be twice a week; for others, it might be five times a week. When writing questions, aim to leave out any personal inferences or assumptions, which then helps remove bias and creates a clearer, cleaner read.

– Instead, ask your question in a more direct way like, “How many days during an average week do you give your child cereal for breakfast?” Answers are then in the form of number of days per week—a clearly defined frequency. When analyzing this data, we will have consistent answers for how often moms are giving their children cereal.

Another important aspect to consider when selecting research language is to keep it light and conversational to encourage discussion. Our online studies are focus groups after all and discussion among respondents can often lead to some of the most interesting research findings. Creating an environment that fosters discussion and allows respondents to interact with each other, as well as the moderator, creates for a more engaging, in-depth conversation.

– For instance, we could generically ask respondents to tell us which concept they like best and why. Often times, the responses to this type of question are short and to the point, with not much elaboration or creativity.

– To encourage detailed responses and discussion, we could also ask this question by stating, “Here’s your chance to test your argument skills! Give us your best argument as to why this is your favorite. Try to convince all of us why we should be voting for your answer.” Asking the question this way creates friendly competition between the respondents and encourages them to more actively read and react to others’ answers; they are naturally wanting to compare and contrast when set up in this way.

A common mistake that is often made unknowingly is the use of leading words or language. The wording of a question should create a space for honest opinions, not opinions that are forced or guided.

– If you want to know initial impression of a new product idea, and you ask respondents, “How much do you like this product?” you are prompting them to tell you that they like the product. As such, there isn’t space for respondents to say there is nothing they like about the product. Respondents would feel obligated to answer in a positive light because they were primed to respond that way.

– A better way to ask this question would be to say, “Please tell me what you like and/or dislike about this product.” This way, it encourages respondents to give you an unbiased, honest answer that encapsulates both what they like and dislike.

While creating a discussion guide seems to be an easy fete, creating one that produces unbiased, detailed answers can sometimes be a tricky art. Keeping these tips in mind will get you one step closer to that masterpiece discussion guide. Write on, Picassos!

To see our research design tips in action, download one of our complimentary executive summaries.

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