Are there any guidelines for writing survey questions?

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By Mark Sinclair

updated 4 months ago

After considering the bigger picture goals and objectives when designing a survey, the next step is to start writing survey questions. The survey questions you create must be designed to achieve your survey goals and objectives. They shouldn’t ask anything that is irrelevant.

The basics of good survey design

Here are some questions to start with when designing a survey.

  • What are your survey goals? Write down the goals for your survey project – three is a good number. Then, write some notes to yourself about what would help to get you the data to support your goals.
  • How will the data be used? Will the analysis just be of data from this survey, or will it be combined with other data? Will you use it internally or publish it? Is it just for your use, or are the results for a client?
  • What kind of questions do you need to ask? Think about what you need to support your goals. What is absolutely required for you to reach your goals? (And then, what is not necessary at all?)
  • Who are you targeting? Think about their ages, genders, locations, languages, the devices they are most likely to use. How will you engage your survey respondents?
  • What’s the best way to distribute the survey? Thinking about all the previous questions, how will you send it? Will it be by email, via a website, or an in-person request? Or by post?
  • What sort of reports do you need? It makes a difference whether you are reporting just for yourself, or for other people? And whether you need to deliver reports in other formats. If you do, think about what they are: Word, SPSS, PDF, Excel, PowerPoint, or something else).

Designing great questions

Once you have the answers to the above questions, you can start designing the survey itself. The questions you create must support your survey goal, and they shouldn’t ask anything that is irrelevant.

Here are some guidelines for writing good questions:

  1. Keep all of your questions short and your language simple
  2. Be specific in what you ask
  3. Phrase your questions in a direct way
  4. Keep all questions directly relevant.

These four guidelines will help you to stick to the point, and to get only the data that supports your goal. There is no point asking about location, for example, when don’t intend to use that information for anything later.

 Here are some guidelines for writing survey questions

  • Start with the survey objetives and work on each objective one at a time. Develop survey questions that will satisfy and meet each objective. The survey objectives must guide your survey question writing.
  • Keep all of your questions short and your language simple
  • Be specific in what you ask
  • Phrase your questions in a direct way
  • Keep all questions directly relevant
  • Use the most appropriate question type to to meet the survey objectives. Ensure that your question wording matches the scale and response options you choose.
  • Test the questions by asking whether they will achieve the survey objectives
spark-chart-mobile-survey-3.png

These guidelines will help you to stick to the point, and to get only the data that supports your goals and objectives.

Select the right question types

There are a number of different question types that you can use when writing survey questions. Once you understand the different question types, you can use the right question type to get the data that you need.

Quantitative questions

Quantitative questions are directly measurable. This means that you set up a list of answers and your respondents will choose from those possible answers. These questions will give you clean reports, easy-to-analyse charts, and will help you to identify patterns and trends. Make sure that your question wording matches the question type and response scale.

Qualitative questions

Qualitative questions are those that let respondents tell you the answer in their own words. Even though they can be more difficult to analyse, qualitative questions will show you exactly how your respondents are thinking.

To get the best results, you often need to use a combination of quantitative and qualitative survey questions. But remember: If you ask qualitative questions, don’t ask them up-front. Get buy-in from your respondents early with easy quantitative questions, and leave the free text questions to later.

Check list for writing survey questions

  • Think about the respondents and use appropriate language
  • Make your questions clear and as short as possible
  • Personalise the language where possible
  • Ensure that your question wording matches the scale and response options you choose
  • Make sure to use a time frame if important
  • Avoid leading questions
  • Avoid biased questions
  • Avoid double barreled questions
  • Ensure the response options are balanced
  • Don’t ask overly complex questions
  • Don’t make your questions too broad
  • Test your questions against the survey objectives

Think about your reporting early

It’s a common problem that surveys are designed and completed without considering the reporting requirements. Reports are then difficult to pull together and often the desired analysis cannot be performed. You can avoid this by thinking about your reporting requirements during the design stage.

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