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It seems like conventional wisdom suggests asking more general questions first in a survey or questionnaire to help frame the context of the research to the user (e.g. what is your overall impression of 'x'), which allows you to hone in on more specific details in latter questions. This creates a logical flow or progression from the questions at the beginning through to the end by allow you to focus on each specific area (e.g. what is your impression of 'x' in scenario '1') and would appear to be a sensible approach to ease the user into the questions.

However, given that there is also the effect of fatigue and loss of concentration towards the end of the survey, leaving the more detailed and complex questions at the end could also result in lower quality responses. This is generally seen when an open-ended question is placed right at the end of a survey (e.g. "Is there anything else you would like to add?").

I would like to know if it is also common to design the survey or questionnaire so that you ask more specific questions upfront and towards the end you ask more general/summary questions, so that you can get good quality answers about detail information and also for users to be able to reflect on the responses they have provided in order to answer the summary questions.

Is the effect or impact of asking specific questions towards the beginning of the survey not ideal? What is the effect on the user compared to asking general questions at the beginning? I would be interested in any research or insights from personal experience.

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Some resources recommend the "Funnel Technique" for survey design as well. Intended to maximize the insights on important questions and reduce the possibility of fatigue before the end of the survey:

The most difficult questions are placed in the middle – those that take time to think about and those that are of less general interest. At the end, we again place general questions that are easier to answer and of broad interest and application. Typically, these last questions include demographic and other classification questions. Qualtrics survey design

I would imagine the early, broad, questions serve to warm up the respondent and lead into the more difficult questions by priming them in order.

I've never intentionally tried this technique myself, but will be doing so in the future.

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First, the order of questions need to be logical. If you ask specific questions first, then more general questions on the same topic, the respondent might get annoyed and think "I've already answered that question!"

If the very first questions are too complex (and quite often, the more specific and interesting questions for researchers are also the most complex ones to answer), the respondents risk to drop out right away. That's the reason why Qualtrics and other survey tool providers advise to start with relatively easy questions, and questions that will pick the interest of the respondent.

Once respondents have answered a few questions, there is a sink cost, and they are more likely to finish the survey, provided it's not too long or overly complicated.

The first questions will also influence the following ones. Pew Research Center recommends to place open-ended questions at the beginning of the questionnaire (http://www.pewresearch.org/methodology/u-s-survey-research/questionnaire-design/). When placed at the end, the respondents use the wording of the previous questions to answer (priming effect). By placing very specific questions first, you risk to prime the respondents towards a specific topic.

To sum it up, very first questions should be easy and pick the interest, possibly open-ended, then get into specific (and more difficult) questions, and end by easy, boring questions such as demographic.

  • +1 nice answer! very logical explanation as well :) – Michael Lai Jun 2 '18 at 23:31

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