The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. Vol 1 Issue 1   September 2005


You hold in your hands (more or less) the first monthly newsletter from The Center for Strategy Research. Each month we’ll bring you useful and objective insights into research and its business applications. It will be emailed to you at this address during the second week of each month.

Why “Research With a Twist?” Well, in keeping with our research orientation, please tell us what you think it means and why we chose it as the name for our monthly newsletter! Click here to send your thoughts.

Best regards and thanks for reading,

Julie Brown

Mark Palmerino
Executive Vice President

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On a Scale of 1 to 5, How Are You?

During the summer months I attend a fair number of cocktail parties, barbecues and miscellaneous outdoor events. I summer in Plymouth, Massachusetts — just a stone’s throw over the bridge from Cape Cod — and around here we make the most of the warm weather while we can.

As you might imagine, these social events provide an opportunity for lots of casual conversations. I’m no Barbara Walters, and I often find myself breaking the ice with strangers by introducing myself with a nonthreatening, “How are you?”

Imagine instead however, if I walked up to people and asked, “On a scale of one to five, how are you?”

Besides causing some strange looks from my fellow party- goers, I think you’d agree that this type of closed-ended questioning would be less likely to engage another individual in conversation, and would result in very little useful information.

After all, what would a response of “1” imply? That the other person has the flu? Is going through a divorce? Can’t find any cold beer? It could be any one of these things or countless others, and by simply presenting a numerical range, you’d walk away with very little insight.

Furthermore, imagine if my follow-up question was, “Oh, you said 1, please pick from the following reasons why you said this: Flu, Divorce, Excessive Thirst?” What are the chances that the limited options truly reflect the reasons for a “1”?

It’s a ridiculous scenario, I know, and yet this is exactly what researchers do when they use closed-ended questions to gather data. The problem is that closed-ended questions, while certainly useful in some situations, carry with them a number of limitations:

  1. You need to know the answers going in. Whether it’s “1 to 5,” “Poor to Excellent,” or any other preconceived range of answers, you can’t construct this type of research without first deciding on what the possible answers might be. That might work fine in situations where the possible choices are limited (e.g. “Who’s your favorite Beatle?”), but in most real world situations, you’re introducing bias into your results when you force respondents to work with the options you provide.
  2. The information you get isn’t as useful. Closed-ended questions don’t allow respondents to talk about what’s important to them and why. The answer to the question “why” is very difficult to get at with closed-ended questions but is a natural follow-up question in an open-ended setting.

    By comparison, the information received from closed- ended questions is narrower, frequently off the mark and generally less valuable. Open-ended questions on the other hand, encourage respondents to take the conversation where they want to take it, often revealing aspects of your product or service or business that you had never even considered.
  3. The conversation is more likely to be cut short. With open-ended questioning the interviewee feels like she’s contributing. She’s given the space to say what’s on her mind, feels the give and take of a two-way conversation, and is more likely to feel good about the organization doing the questioning (if not survey-taking in general).

    Closed-ended questioning offers none of these beneficial effects, and respondents frequently either feel frustrated, request to bail out before the end of the survey or take a “let’s just get through it” stance — none of which contributes to your goal of getting to the heart of the subject at hand.

Like a good conversation, quality research includes a free and unfettered exchange of ideas.

And there’s a world of difference between asking the right question the right way, probing to ensure a clear understanding of what your conversation partner is trying to say, and then trying to figure out how to use that information, and the lesser alternative of offering a truncated choice of possible responses to an inflexible set of questions.

– Julie

Discussion question: On a scale of 1 to 5, what did you think of this article? And be sure to tell us why you feel that way in as much detail as you wish — we will be listening! Follow this link to reply.

Click here to share this newsletter with a colleague.

Mixology (Putting research into practice)

Did you ever stop to consider how respondent stipends could support your community and the causes in which you are interested?

As a marketing professional, you have the opportunity to make a significant contribution to causes important to you, your organization and/or your local community.

While it is common to ask the respondent if they would like to donate their incentive to the charity of their choice, one downside is small amounts going to disparate entities. Further, some of these charities may be inconsistent with your personal beliefs or your organization’s stated ideals and/or mission.

Therefore, we recommend keeping it simple by selecting just one charity per survey. For example, our clients often use The American Cancer Society — a well-regarded, scandal-free organization that many can rally around without fear of political polarization. In light of recent current events, The American Red Cross is another obvious choice. Any organization that you, your organization or your respondents can identify with, however, is fine.

Our clients that are charitable organizations have told us that one $10,000 check goes a lot further to help a cause than 1,000 $10 checks. This is also a nice way for your organization to combine the good intentions of many people into a single gift.


On a Scale of 1 to 5, How Are You?

Mixology (Putting research into practice)

Twist and Shout

About Us

Thanks to T & D Magazine (a publication of The American Society for Training & Development), which recently published an article written by Julie Brown, in collaboration with two teammates at our valued client, BP.

The article, “BP Refines Leadership,” described how CSR helped BP design a study to measure the value of its corporate training programs.

Follow this link for a synopsis of the article.

Follow this link to request a copy.

“Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”

— Mark Twain

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