Cultural Sensitivity in Questions

When generating survey questions, it is important to be sensitive to cultural differences that can have an impact on what is acceptable and what is not. Questions about age or income will be accepted differently in different countries. In regions such as Asia and the Middle East, it is considered bad form to ask questions about employees, performance, stnadards, and financing. Sometimes, the solution is just to reframe the question in a less sensitive format. Rather than ask, “How old are you?” ask, “In what year were you born?”

Pay careful attention to the translation of questions. One of the authors of this book, for example once used the phrase “group discussion” in a questionnaire for Russian executives only to learn that it translated to “political indoctrination session.” It helps to use a translation-retranslation approach, when the researcher writes the question, has it translated, and then has a second translator return the question to the original language. This technique helps identify potential missteps.

Another recommended safeguard is using alternative wording. This lets the researcher use questions that address the same issue but are worded differently and that resurface at various points in the questionnaire in order to check for consistency in how respondents interpret the question.