Data from survey research is only as good as the quality of the questions in their ability to capture the respondents’ responses clearly. Several factors come into play here, including language, the complexity of the questions, question structure, length, and how the questions are asked, among others.

The scope, scale, and the number of multicultural and multinational surveys continue to grow as researchers, international brands, and policymakers seek data to inform decisions and policy across numerous substantive domains. The cultural context plays a significant role in how a research project turns out. Especially when conducting surveys across several cultures, “one size fits all” cannot apply.

Cultural Orientation

Cultural background may shape how different people respond to the same questions, eliciting tendencies that interfere with what a survey researcher might want to know. In other cases, culture might influence whether respondents provide answers to the question as stated in the text or if they are inclined to tailor their response based on the specific context in which the question is being asked.

Ultimately, people respond to questions according to how they understand them, whether based on the text of the question or their predispositions.

For example, a question about commute time may elicit different responses from respondents in a city that has a lot of traffic compared to respondents from a town that doesn’t experience traffic jams on the same scale.

To counter the effect of cultural prejudice in a survey, some researchers conduct cognitive pre-interviews with a subset of respondents before going deeper into the survey. In any case, researchers should think about the internal and external context of each question and how the respondent might think about it or understand it.


When we think about language in research, the adage “it is not what you say but how you say it” comes to the fore. Language users, such as survey respondents and interviewers, must speak the same language literally and figuratively to interact with each other.

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In surveys, interviewers and respondents may speak a different language or speak the same language differently, reflecting their own cultural norms of communication. Respondents must comprehend and interpret survey questions and instructions to respond as intended. The need to reach increasingly diverse target populations requires survey researchers to be ever more aware of the role of verbal and nonverbal language in the survey research process.

In survey research, it is sometimes not enough to just translate a questionnaire. It is crucial to evaluate and adapt the survey instruments to the language norms of the community being surveyed. For example, many countries speak Arabic which may seem the same in underlying structure, but every Arab nation has its dialect differing widely in vocabulary and pronunciation. Sometimes, different regions in the same country may speak another type of Arabic. It is therefore essential for researchers to understand the language spoken by respondents and adapt the survey to be able to collect data as intended. The language used and how it is adapted contributes to data quality directly and is therefore essential.

Conduct Culture-Adapted Surveys with GeoPoll

GeoPoll runs research projects across several regions globally, many of which are multi-country and multicultural. Over the years, we have learned that not having a nuanced understanding of the cultural realities beyond language translation can inhibit the gathering of robust, accurate data from survey respondents.

We have teams and partners in almost every part of the world to provide local experiences with our surveys, from questionnaire creation and translation to conducting CATI and CAPI surveys that do not get lost in translation or culture misunderstanding.

To learn more about GeoPoll surveys and our work in various regions across the world, please contact us.