Definitions From Questions, It’s All In How You Ask

Definitions From Questions, It’s All In How You Ask

Last night, I attended a lecture given by Jim Fleming, S.J. at the Boston College Club on the results of a recently completed survey about the religiousness and spirituality of students at BC.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to get on my soap box and preach about religion, but what I did find interesting is how some of the questions were posed.

Instead of defining the two terms, religion and spirituality, up front and then asking the students how they perceive themselves in light of those definitions, they worked the other way around.  The survey asked the students how religious and spiritual they thought they were, without defining the terms, and then used the rest of the questions to go back and define the two words.

To use another example to illustrate this process, let’s say a PR firm wanted to conduct a survey on what transparency means in social media.  Without defining transparency upfront, the survey would ask how transparent the respondents think their actions are in social media and use the subsequent questions to see how industry professionals would define the term.  So, if a respondent said they considered themselves to be very transparent, and then answered the following questions:

Based on these responses, the firm conducting the survey can asses that transparency in social media can be defined as someone who reveals their true identity, writes their own material under their name, does not have a ghost writer, and reveals when they are talking about one of their clients.

While the answers to these questions may seem obvious, there is great potential here to glean far more insight into the actual practices people conduct in their everyday lives and see how it relates to the broader question.  It’s validating the “practice what you preach” methodology.

Another way to look at it is that maybe “transparency,” or whatever term you’re evaluating, is not the correct word.  Perhaps someone thinks they are not very transparent in their social media activities, but answered in the same way as the respondent in the questions above, which are clearly transparent actions.  Is there a reason such respondents would shy away from the term transparent, or could there be more indicators of what makes a person’s social media actions transparent?  Recognizing these trends as a participant in the survey is also very interesting and makes people more self aware of their own actions.  Maybe this would give such a respondent the opportunity to say, “Oh, I guess I am transparent in social media.”

It’s all about how you ask the question…


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