Good Survey Questions: Tips and Examples

Philip Cleave
September 15, 2022
Lots of survey questions to answer

Whether you’re trying to better understand your customers, or better engage with your employees. Whatever you’re trying to achieve with your online questionnaire, the quality and types of survey questions you use will have a significant influence on what meaningful data you’re able to obtain and the actions you’re able to take as a result.

From the length of your survey to the way you word and structure your questions, there are lots of things that can impact your success. So, before you even start crafting some example survey questions, think carefully about what you’re looking to achieve and how you plan to use the results. This will help guide you about what questions to include and what not to. In addition, it also helps to have some best practice tips to draw on.

So, to help you, we outlined some Do’s and Don’ts for you to think about below.

How to achieve effective survey questions

When it comes to good questions to ask in a survey, there are a number of things you need to be doing.

Keep to your goal

Your questions are crucial to eliciting the information you need, so always have your overarching survey objective in mind when you’re thinking about your questions. This will keep you disciplined and ensure you only include relevant questions that are targeted at what you’re trying to achieve.

Consider starting with your easiest questions

If you start your survey with your simplest questions first, and place the more difficult ones towards the end, it should be easier for you to engage and encourage respondents to start progressing through your survey.

Use the correct survey question type

To get the data you require, you need to be using the right question type.

Open-ended qualitative questions: these types of questions are ideal if you want to find out more about why people think the way they do. However, open-ended questions typically take longer to complete, so use them sparingly to avoid survey fatigue.

Closed-ended quantitative questions: these types of questions offer respondent’s a choice of answers to choose from. Asking closed-ended questions is ideal if you want answers that are quick and easy to measure. However, the downside is that they can be sparse on detail. They are typically laid out with the use of radio buttons, check boxes, drop down menus, rating or ranking scales.

Most surveys look to include a mix of both qualitative and quantitative, which can enable you to quickly gather some data, while still offering a bit of insight into why people are answering in the way that they are.

Always use mutually exclusive answer options

Whenever you’re using a range, whether that’s a data, age or income range and more, make sure these ranges are exclusive and don’t overlap. If you were asking how long the respondent has lived at their present address, rather than offering them these options…

  1. 1-10 years
  2. 10-20 years
  3. 20-30 years
  4. 30+ years

…you would need to be sure to use the following layout:

  1. 1-10 years
  2. 11-20 years
  3. 21-30 years
  4. 31+ years

Using nonexclusive answer options not only confuses respondents but can result in bad data.

Always be specific and direct

If your questions are too vague and not direct and specific enough, they’re unlikely to generate useful results.

For example:

‘What suggestions do you have for improving Colin’s crisps?

While the question may be intended to obtain suggestions about improving the taste, the vagueness of how it’s written, might lead to answers about the texture, the packaging and more.

Instead, a better survey question example would be.

‘What suggestions do you have for improving the taste of Colin’s crisps?

Things to avoid when crafting questionnaires

If you’re to engage and encourage respondents to complete all your survey questions, you’ll want to avoid the following.

Don’t risk respondent fatigue

If you’re to avoid survey fatigue and risk of respondents abandoning it before they complete it, you’ll want to avoid questions that are too long, ambiguous and mentally taxing. You also need to limit the number of qualitative questions you include, as these require more time and effort to answer.

Don’t ask really sensitive questions

Personal questions can be uncomfortable to answer, and if you include them, they can result in an increase in survey abandonment rates.

Consider providing a Prefer Not to Answer (PNA) option, to allow respondents to opt out of answering these questions.

Don’t risk survey bias

Try to avoid including biased survey questions at all costs.

If you’re not careful about how you word your questions you could easily and unwittingly prompt a respondent towards answering one question over another. Typically referred to as leading questions, biased examples of this type of question include:

‘You enjoyed your first day at work, didn’t you?

‘You received all the tools and instructions to work effectively on your first day, didn’t you?

Similarly, loaded questions also bring bias into a survey by wrongly making assumptions about a respondent. Examples of survey questions with this type of bias include:

‘Where do you enjoy going for a coffee?

‘How often do you go cycling?

Don’t offer too many answer choices

The issue of offering too many answer choices can be a problem with multiple choice questions if they’ve not been properly thought out.

With too long a list of options, it’s difficult for respondents to evaluate questions and make their choice. And if they become too frustrated, they might abandon your survey altogether.

While there are no hard and fast rules about this, it’s better to keep the options you provide on the shorter side and be as consistent as you can be.

Don’t force answers

While you won’t get results without having answers, you want to make sure the answers you get are as representative as much as possible of what your respondent thinks. So, for closed questions, you need to ensure you have given them as many options as you can to select what best reflects them, without forcing them to choose an unsuitable response.

For example, if you were asking a gender question, rather than asking…

‘What is your gender?

a) Male

b) Female

You would be much better off using the following question and answer choices…

‘What is your gender?

a) Male

b) Female

c) Transgender

d) Gender variant/non-conforming

e) Prefer not to say

Crafting quality survey questions takes time

Whatever survey you create, it’s important to ensure you leave enough time for planning your questions. Not only should this lead to better results, but it should also save you time and effort later when it comes to analyzing and taking actions based on this data.

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