Effective Survey Questions Require Careful Consideration

Surveys should always serve a purpose and contribute to a greater end goal. But crafting effective survey questions can be tougher than expected. In this post, we address tactics that enable researchers to get the most out of their surveys by optimizing the questions they ask.

High quality results are dependent on high quality questions. However, far too often survey administrators neglect to take the time to use the most effective language in phrasing their questions, and leverage the most useful question types. 

For example, even something as routine as inquiring about a respondent’s gender must be approached delicately and respectfully.

Related: The SurveyGizmo guide on how to write better survey questions pertaining to gender.

Without the careful consideration of which questions to include in a survey and how to frame them, researchers run risks such as survey fatigue, offending respondents, and ultimately yielding inactionable data.

Mistakes to Avoid While Writing Survey Questions

In order for researchers to write the most effective questions possible, they’ll want to avoid the following mistakes.

Including Leading Words or Questions

The way that a question is worded can significantly affect the way that respondents interpret it. 

By including leading words or questions, respondents might be biased to provide a particular answer. 

For example, let’s say that respondents are asked the following question:

“How do you feel about the recent announcement that Denver is kicking off an astronomically expensive implementation of a public bike system?”

By including “astronomically expensive” in the question, respondents are more likely to provide answers that communicate frustration or other negative sentiments.

Neglecting to Provide Mutually Exclusive Answer Options

This is a classic error in survey design, and it’s prevalent in surveys that inquire about the age of respondents. 

These survey questions often provide answer options in the form of age ranges. While this is an effective design, it must be executed properly. 

A common mistake comes in the form of offering the following age ranges: 20-30 years old, 30-40 years old, 40-50 years old, etc.

The problem here is that if someone is 30 or 40 years old, they will not know which answer option to select. This is the classic dilemma of neglecting to provide mutually exclusive answer options.

Asking More Than One Question at Once

As a researcher, your objective is to get the most data out of each response as possible. However, asking more than one question at once results in poor data quality.

Prior to distributing a survey, it’s essential for administrators to comb through each survey question to confirm that each is clear, concise, and singularly-focused. 

In other words, don’t ask multi-stage questions or overcomplicate things. It’s better to break a complex question up into multiple questions so that the response data is useful to your research. 

A basic example of this would be asking the following question:

“What are the odds you buy a new car and go on a vacation this year?”

By asking this question, it will be impossible to use the responses to draw actionable insight into behavior. Someone might be planning on purchasing a car without going on vacation, or vice versa.

These are just a few mistakes that should be avoided while aiming to write effective survey questions. 

To learn more about how to write effective survey questions, check out this article.

Best Practices for Writing Effective Survey Questions

Know the End Goal of Your Survey

While building a survey, it’s best to start with your end goal in mind. What are you trying to accomplish by distributing a survey?

Once your goal is solidified, it’s time to begin drafting your survey questions. 

Every question you write should all serve a distinct purpose, and the resulting analysis of response data should be able to allow you to achieve your goal. 

If a question does not serve a specific purpose, remove it from your survey.

Plan Ahead for Reporting and Exporting

Think forward to how you will want to analyze your data and communicate your findings to others. 

Be sure to set up your questions so that the reporting stage of analysis is simple and straightforward.

If you neglect to consider reporting and exporting prior to distributing your survey, you’ll find yourself spending an inordinate amount of time manually combing through and manipulating your response data later on. 

Consider the Order of Your Survey Questions

Survey bias results in inactionable data, and more often than not bias is bred from inefficient question ordering.  

Question order bias can be mitigated by randomizing your survey questions. This commonly used type of randomization displays each survey question in a random order, triggering questions to appear differently for each respondent.

Related: How to Order Your Survey Questions the Right Way 

Use Open Text Fields Sparingly

While open-ended survey questions are a great way to understand the unique opinions of your respondents, they naturally require a little more legwork in order to uncover actionable insights. 

Even though open text analysis, or OTA, can help decipher the meaning behind responses, the human element of evaluating these insights cannot be ignored. After collecting responses to open ended questions, you’ll need to spend some time manually digging into what your respondents had to say.

If you’re looking for a quick, clean, and straightforward analysis process, use open text fields sparingly. 

Limit Respondents to One Answer for Yes/No Questions

This is another mistake often carried out by researchers that are new to survey administration. 

It’s far too common for researchers to forget to restrict people to one answer per Yes/No question. 

If this is the case, then respondents will be able to answer both Yes AND No to your question, which means you’ll be dealing with inaccurate data when you go to perform your analysis.

Keep it Short and Sweet

Survey fatigue is real. After crafting the perfect questions and setting up the best logic for those questions, nothing is more frustrating than realizing that people are responding with partial answers. 

In order to reduce survey fatigue, keep your survey short! 

Again, this goes back to knowing the goal of your survey and only including the questions that are absolutely necessary to support that goal.

Add Opt-Out Answer Options to Required Questions

If you require a question in your survey, make sure you provide an opt-out answer option to respondents. 

Some people just might not be comfortable answering particular questions. If you do not add an opt-out option to these questions, you risk those respondents that are uncomfortable failing to complete your survey.

These are just a few of the many best practices to consider while writing effective survey questions. For a more expansive and detailed list, check out this article.

Leverage Survey Questions from Ready-to-Use Templates

Luckily, when it comes to embarking on the journey of optimizing your survey questions, you are not alone.

Below you’ll find survey templates that vary based on their end goals and the populations that they address. These templates are ready-to-use, so feel free to distribute them as is, or use them as the foundational inspiration for creating your own versions.