Knowledge, Attitude, and Behavior: How to ask the Right Questions

Surveys are crucial to collect data and understand the people you are working with. Writing and asking the right type of question is vital to gather the best results. Phrasing is so important when it comes to data collection. There are three main types of questions and each are useful and necessary to create the most robust survey possible. By breaking down each category, you will learn how to write the best questionnaire. So, let’s get started.

1.     Knowledge
First up, knowledge! Knowledge questions aim to decipher an individual’s understanding and perception of a topic. These questions are usually simple questions that help you understand the baseline knowledge that respondents have on a topic. Knowledge questions assess and locate the areas where education exists and guide you towards areas that may need more attention. 

Here is an example of a knowledge question, let’s pretend we are surveying a population about John Oliver: Do you think John Oliver is the host of Last Week Tonight? Yes/No/Unsure.

This question addresses the knowledge that respondents have of a topic and based on the answers, you would know whether or not you needed to focus time on education for this topic.  

2.     Attitude
Next up, Attitude! Attitude questions look to find an individual’s position on a topic. We can’t directly observe someone’s attitude towards an issue like we can with a behavior, so it is necessary to frame questions to determine positions. These questions help determine reactions towards a stimulus.  These questions literally ask respondents how they would hypothetically react to a situation. By giving hypotheticals you are able to gauge their attitudes and opinions toward a subject.

For Example: If you think John Oliver is funny and you met him, what would you do? Tell all of your friends/ Shake his hand/ Cry because you are star struck/ Nothing…he’s not funny.

3.     Behavior (or Practice)
Last but certainly not least, we have behavior questions! These questions are similar to attitude questions but instead of asking about a position or opinion, these questions ask about concrete experiences. Behavior questions inquire about direct actions that have taken place and how individuals handle them.

For Example: After shaking John Oliver’s hand did you wash it? Yes/No

By utilizing knowledge, attitude, and behavior questions you can write an effective questionnaire that will help you gain the most representative dataset. Using the right language encourages the type of answer you are looking. On the topic of language: keep it neutral. While you want your question to get an answer, you don’t want to impose any bias through the question and alter the way someone responds.

Additionally, it is important to groups questions into themed clusters. Jumping around from topic to topic makes for a confusing and annoying survey. By asking all three types of questions for a topic you can ask the respondent how much they know, how they feel, and have they act about a topic. It’s best to balance questions about knowledge, attitude, and behavior in the most even way. With a good balance and neutral questions you will undoubtedly produce a top notch survey.


Claire Sears is the Data Analytics Intern here at Mockingbird. She is a senior at Occidental College double majoring in Economics and Urban/Environmental Policy with a passion for data. Originally from Claremont CA, Claire rides horses and goes to concerts in her free time.


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