Tips for Designing Better Surveys

Making surveys understandable is critical in order to effectively collect reliable feedback from the respondent. If a survey is unclear or confusing, respondents are likely to provide inaccurate or incomplete responses.

Additionally, surveys must be easy to navigate to encourage the respondent to provide quality and thoughtful responses. Understanding the survey content will help the respondent be better informed and engaged in the process.

While the concept may sound simple, it can often prove challenging to create clear survey questions that don’t contain any bias or slant. When creating a survey, keep some of these tips in mind to make sure you’re collecting useful, effective data from your respondents.

1. Use Plain Language: Keep survey questions simple by asking them in plain language, as opposed to using jargon or complicated terms.

  • Ask questions that are concise and easy to understand.
  • Provide clear prompts to guide respondents and ensure they are answering the questions as intended.
  • Be consistent with how you label and format questions to reduce confusion. Use short, clear terms and avoid overly complicated sentence structures.
  • Be mindful of language. Avoid loaded language or phrases that could be interpreted differently by various respondents. 

2. Avoid Leading Questions: Do not use questions that contain assumptions or suggest an answer.

  • Stick to neutral language when writing questions.
  • Avoid words that indicate a desired response.
  • Ask questions that focus on the opinion or behavior of the respondent, not the opinion of others.
  • Ask open-ended questions that encourage more than a yes/no answer.
  • Consider allowing respondents to skip questions.
  • Avoid using first-person questions that imply a desired response.
  • Avoid questions that contain emotionally charged language.
  • Avoid asking individuals to evaluate themselves in too much detail.
  • Consider asking how likely the respondent is to conduct a certain behavior instead of whether they will or they won’t.

3. Make the Options Easily Comparable: Ensure that the response options offered are easily comparable and do not bias people to a certain answer.

  • Use the same formatting for each option. This includes font style and size, colors, and any visuals or images used.
  • Make the phrasing of the options clear and concise. Avoid using long, complex sentence structures and ambiguous phrasing.
  • Arrange the options in a logical manner, such as from most to least desirable.
  • Consider using a rating scale (e.g. 1-5) or multiple choice format. This helps make the options more easily quantifiable, allowing you to generate data and compare results.

4. Offer Neutral Response Options: Use a neutral response option that contain words with a positive or negative connotation.

  • Offer a neutral response option to allow respondents to give honest answers without hesitation or feeling of being judged.
  • Ensures valuable feedback on topics where respondents may have neutral feelings or lack of knowledge.
  • Gives insight into the state of mind of respondents, allowing for better decision making.

5. Show Compassion: Respectfully acknowledge the time and effort required to respond to the survey.

  • Let respondents know the importance of their answers and their impact.
  • Foster an environment where participants feel respected and appreciated, which can make them more willing to provide accurate and honest feedback.

6. Avoid Double-Barreled Questions: Stay away from questions that ask for more than one answer in a single question.

  • Confuses respondents on how to answer questions, as the questions are asking separate things that likely need separate answers.
  • Skews survey results because they force people to generalize their answers over two different topics.

7. Offer a “Don’t Know” Option: Include a “Don’t Know” option for questions that are difficult to answer in order to stray from forcing people to give an incorrect answer.

  • Allows respondents to indicate they are not familiar with the topic being surveyed or do not feel comfortable providing an opinion.
  • Helps increase the accuracy of survey results by ensuring respondents are only providing answers they feel confident in.
  • Helps indicate to the survey creator which questions may not be clearly worded or adequately explained.

8. Test Your Questions: Test the survey questions with a few people first to see if they are clear and concise before launching.

  • Ensures the accuracy and clarity of the survey.
  • Identifies issues that can be fixed before the survey is released to the public.
  • Ensures the survey is free from bias, as it can be tested for neutrality.
  • Helps determine the readability and ease of answering questions, and can spot redundant or irrelevant items.

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