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What are leading questions, and how can you identify and avoid them?

Last updated

27 January 2024


Claire Bonneau

Are your survey questions leading participants to answer you in a particular way?

Survey questions should be unbiased prompts designed to collect data and information from your target audience. But, when they are written (either intentionally or accidentally) in a way that leads the participant to a specific type of answer, you risk skewing your data. If you don’t address this, it can lead to significant problems for your brand.

Learn how to spot (and ultimately fix or avoid) leading questions when creating your next survey to improve the quality of your data and avoid user bias.

What are leading questions?

A leading question is a style of question that intentionally or accidentally pushes participants to answer in a particular way. In most cases, the way they are framed or presented introduces some sort of bias that affects how a person chooses to answer.

For example, a question may persuade the participant to provide a more positive response than they would naturally based on how the question was presented or asked.

Properly editing and framing survey questions can help reduce bias—but you need to know what you are looking for to get the best results.

Why you should avoid asking leading questions

A well-crafted questionnaire aims to collect unbiased information from your target audience. This isn’t easy if your questions are written to lead and guide respondents to specific answers. 

Left unchecked, leading questions pose a serious risk to the quality and accuracy of the data you are collecting and other areas of your business.

They can make participants uncomfortable

Depending on how they are framed, leading questions can make participants feel they need to share more personal information about themselves than they are comfortable doing. This can significantly impact user response rates and affect customer experience while collecting data as a result.

They often read as rude and unprofessional

Assumptions or biases are often baked into a leading question’s wording, which can come across as rude, ignorant, or even forceful. Including these types of leading questions in your survey, customer interview, or experimental tasks is never a good look for the brand and can actually impact how a client or consumer feels about your brand as a whole.

They affect the quality of future brand decisions

If your company uses surveys or customer interviews that contain leading questions for a prolonged period, you will begin to get a warped and inaccurate view of the topic you are researching.

As a result, when it comes to launching a new product or service or adjusting existing features, your team will actually be taking a bigger gamble than you may realize. In the worst-case scenario, this can lead to significant damage to your company’s reputation and profit margin.

Examples of leading questions

If you’re in the process of creating or editing survey or interview questions, you’ll want to avoid and watch out for the following types of leading questions:

Assumption-based questions

Assumption-based questions include unnecessary context or bias that impacts how a person will respond to the prompt. In most cases, assumption-based questions for products or brands often skew in a positive direction. This is because they are written in a way that encourages participants to share more positive feedback than they would otherwise.

You can resolve this type of leading question by removing any emotional language and simplifying the ask.

Here are some examples of assumption-based questions:

How much did you love the new features added to our product?

This question assumes the participant has positive feelings about the updated features.

A less biased version of this prompt would be, “On a scale of 1–5, with 1 being ‘very unsatisfied’ to 5 being ‘very satisfied,’ how did you feel about the new features added to our product?”

How much did you enjoy your most recent visit?

This question assumes the customer had an enjoyable experience during their visit. Hopefully, this is true, but it might not be.

You can improve this prompt by changing it to, “On a scale of 1–5, with 1 being ‘very unsatisfied’ and 5 being ‘very satisfied,’ how satisfied or not were you with your visit to our clinic?”

Coercive questions

Coercive questions are a very direct and often forceful form of leading prompts. They are written and framed to persuade the participant to answer the question in a specific way, which can feel threatening and overwhelming.

As the most unprofessional and aggressive type of leading question, you should never include these types of prompts in your surveys. Instead, reformat the question to be more open and less pointed toward a specific outcome.

Here are some examples of coercive questions:

You agree that our new web design is better than before, right?

This question reads very hostile and aggressive. The survey participant will likely just agree with the statement rather than share their true opinion because of its forceful and direct nature.

To make this question more effective, you could change it to, “On a scale of 1–5, where 1 is ‘strongly disagree’ and 5 is ‘strongly agree,’ please indicate your opinion on whether the new website design is an improvement on our previous design.”

You will recommend our brand to your friends and family, won’t you?

This question comes across as pushy, rude, and unprofessional. Avoid this type of wording and collect more accurate data by rephrasing the question as follows, “On a scale of 1–5, where 1 is ‘not likely at all’ and 5 is ‘extremely likely,’ how likely are you to recommend our brand to your friends and family?”

Direct implication questions

Direct implication questions dangle some sort of reward or insight into what could happen if the participant responds or behaves in a particular way.

These types of questions entice people to provide the desired feedback so they don’t lose out on a perceived opportunity.

Improve direct implication questions by removing the unnecessary context and asking simpler, more direct questions.

Here are some examples of direct implication questions:

If you liked our recent product launch, would you like to be invited to the next event?

This question implies that only those people who liked the recent product launch will be invited to the upcoming event. It heavily incentivizes participants to answer positively.

You can make the question less leading by simplifying the ask and removing the extra context as follows, “Would you like to be invited to the next launch event?”

If you’re a supporter of our brand, would you like to provide additional feedback to improve our upcoming new features?

This question implies that only brand supporters will be encouraged to share their feedback on upcoming updates.

To fix this question (and to collect accurate input from a more diverse group of opinions in your niche), change it to, “Are you interested in providing additional feedback to improve upcoming new features?”

Interconnected statement questions

Interconnected statement questions involve combining two similar statements to persuade the participant to answer in a particular way.

Often written with too much leading context, these questions can “guilt-trip” people into answering the question in a more positive way than they would like.

To remove the bias from these questions, simply take out the unnecessary context and connected sentence and ask a more simple, straightforward question.

Here are some examples of interconnected statement questions:

Our top customers use our platform every day. How often do you use it?

The introductory sentence to this question could make the respondent feel bad or uncomfortable about how often they use your platform.

Here’s a more effective and simplified version: “How often do you use our platform? Every day, a few times a week, once a week, a few times a month, a few times a year, or never?”

We appreciate customers who engage with us on social media. Do you follow any of our social accounts?

This question uses a leading statement to imply the company wants the participant to follow them on social media. It comes across as pushy and too direct.

A more effective version would be, “Do you currently follow us on social media? If not, why?”

Avoid leading questions and improve the quality of your data

Are your existing survey questions leading your participants to provide a certain type of response? If so, it’s time to get your data back on track!

While it’s easy to miss the signs that your questions are leading, they can wreak havoc on the quality of your survey data. Try to pay close attention to identifying and removing all leading questions from your customer and client surveys to improve your data quality and customer satisfaction.

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