Small Words, Big Changes: How Wording Shapes Our Questions

picture of hands clasped, with the text "Small Words, Big Changes"

The art and science of question writing includes trying out different wordings for the same concept, so we can make sure that everyone interprets it the same way and we actually measure what we’re trying to measure. Recently, our team floated these two options for asking about the expression of love:

  1. “Love can still exist even if it’s not expressed”

  2. “Love only matters if you express it”

At first glance, these two questions are extremely similar. In the sense that they both have to do with the expression of love, they are! However, we quickly realized that though these two sentences may look the same, they ask about slightly different concepts. There are differences in sentence structure and word choice that make them distinct—they each measure different parts of who you are and what exactly you value (or don’t value) about the expression of love. 

Let’s look at the difference in word choice—the first question asks if love can “exist,” whereas the second asks if love “matters.” Thus, the first contrast between these two questions is that the first asks only about existence, and the second asks about value. The existence of love is different from the value one places upon it. 

The first question mainly falls under our sub-category of “Authenticity,” which is defined as how straightforward you are in your communication with others, and how much you need to express your true self and feelings. Someone with extremely high Authenticity would be unwilling to feel anything without expressing it, and so they would likely strongly disagree with the first statement “Love can still exist even if it’s not expressed.” To them, there is no emotion that exists without its expression (and if they don’t express an emotion, that emotion must not exist within them).

The second question falls squarely under our sub-category of “Emotional expressivity,” which is defined as the value you assign to emotional expression, measured behaviorally by how much emotion you yourself actually express. If you place a lot of value in the expression of your emotions, you would score highly in emotional expressivity, and would likely strongly agree with the phrase “Love only matters if you express it.” On the flip side, if you don’t care about expression as much, then love can still be a valuable emotion to feel without showing it. 

While both of these questions reflect Emotional expressivity and Authenticity in some way, they are not identical. The first question is more reflective of your Authenticity, while the second is more reflective of your Emotional expressivity. 

Hopefully, this case study gives you some insight into the consideration we put into question wording, and how slight changes in wording can affect its meaning!