What is the capital of Peru?

What is the capital of Peru?This is one of my favourite questions and one that I frequently challenge my audience with when I’m doing a presentation. Not during a survey feedback session obviously, but when I’ve been asked to do a guest speaker spot on questionnaire design and I’m demonstrating how the wording of questions and answers can affect the answers given by participants.

Here’s how it works.

I ask the question “What is the capital of Peru?” and ask the audience to raise their hands if they know. Normally a few hands go about, about 5%, and somebody wittily calls out “P”.

I ask the same question again “What is the capital of Peru?” and this time show them a slide with 4 options…


…and again ask for a show of hands. Rather more go up, about a quarter. Of course if a question is posed in this format in a real survey you’ve got a 1 in 4 chance of guessing correctly.

Finally I ask the question again “What is the capital of Peru?” this time showing a slide with 4 different options…

New York

…and just about all the hands go up.

The interesting thing is that the wording of the question hasn’t changed at all, it’s the answer options offered which decide whether my report will state that 5%, 25% or 99% know what the capital of Peru is.

Which illustrates why it’s extremely important to ensure that you’re not manipulating responses (intentionally or not!) when putting together our questionnaire.

It’s also extremely important to ensure that you’re comparing like with like when benchmarking data. Questions must be worded the same and use the same answer scale to deliver a true comparison.

The Survey Initiative team are experts in the field of employee research. If you would like to know more about how we can help your organisation with employee engagement, or to hear about our in-house normative benchmarking offering then call us on +44 (0)1255 850051 or visit our website.