If you have ever been called to participate in a phone survey, you probably know the routine where you hear a question and then jump in with an answer. A good interviewer will remind you that she needs to read the entire question and all the answer options just to be sure that you offered the best response option.
We can’t do this with self-administered online surveys, but there is a way to minimize error associated with respondents jumping to conclusions: Put all clarifying instructions before asking the question, not after. A recent study published in Public Opinion Quarterly documented that if you put instructions before the question, respondents spend more time answering because they are reading the instructions and answering more carefully. Not surprisingly, their answers are more accurate.
Here is an example of a typical question that has clarifying instructions after the question: (more…)