Opinion

Included in this category are beliefs, attitudes, feelings and knowledge. Opinion data can be very useful to decision makers, in giving understanding of the background to behaviour. However, the findings should be treated with rather more caution than factual data. In asking people what their opinions or feelings are about a subject the question itself assumes that they have opinions. This 'cue' will be picked up and answers to the questions given. If respondents actually had no opinion before the questions were asked, the researcher has collected data that appears to measure something, but does not in fact do so. Also, in answering questions of the form, 'What do you feel about ...?', people tend to give answers making only one or two points about their feelings. Feelings and attitudes are generally rather complex, having a number of dimensions, and so this kind of answer is only a limited and sometimes inaccurate reply. It is for this reason that the multidimensional scaling techniques, discussed in Section 6.2.2, are commonly used to collect attitudinal data.

The results of opinion questions are described as 'soft' data, because they are far less reliable as a base for decision making than factual information. Disasters have befallen decision makers who believed that the sum of the 'yes' answers to the question, 'Would you buy this product?' is the same thing as a demand forecast. Hypothetical responses rarely provide a good indicator of subsequent behaviour. Nevertheless, opinion data is extremely good at suggesting new ideas and approaches which are a valuable input to decision making.

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