Get The Most Out of Your Survey: Tips for Writing Effective Questions

Perhaps the most important factor in carrying out a successful survey is the quality and structure of the questions you ask. At the end of the day, it’s what will determine whether you get back useful feedback or not. Poorly structured survey questions can result in incomplete, biased and/or unfocused responses, and ultimately lead your research to be ineffective.

In this article we’ll take a look at some of the “Do’s” and “Do Not’s” of question creation to assure that you get the most out of your survey.

The “Do’s”

1) Each question should be focused on a single topic or issue: Questions need to be concise and specific while only asking respondents about one issue at a time. This will reduce uncertainty on the respondent’s part and assure that you receive the information you’re looking for.

Bad Question: How do you feel about Wal-Mart?

Good Question: Please rank each aspect of Wal-Mart on a scale of 1-5..

2) Questions should be brief: Long drawn out questions can increase confusion and the risk that a question is misinterpreted by the respondent. To guard against this, keep questions short and sweet.

Bad Question: When some appliance in your home breaks, do you call Sears repair service to come and fix it?

Good Question: When you need it, do you call Sears repair service?

3) Questions should be as grammatically simple as possible: Make questions easy to understand by keeping them simple in their wording and grammar.

Bad Question: If the Sears repair service schedule was not convenient for you, would you consider or not consider calling a competing repair organization to fix the problem you have?

Good Question: If you did not use Sears repair service, would you use another repair service?

4) Questions should be crystal clear: It should be obvious what the question is asking. Questions should be presented in their rawest form possible, without any unnecessary words and phrases.

Bad Question: How much do you think you would have to pay to have Sears fix something that needs to be repaired?

Good Question: How much do you think Sears charges for a repair service call?

The “Do Not’s” of Question Writing

1) Questions shouldn’t “lead” respondents to a particular answer: A leading question is one that suggests an answer. These should be avoided to prevent against biased responses.

Bad Question: Shouldn’t concerned parents use car seats?

Good Question: Do you think infant car seats are useful?

2) Questions shouldn’t have “loaded” wording or phrasing: Avoid using “loaded” language in questions, or words that might have an emotive implication. Questions should be neutral in language.

Bad Question: Should car seats be used for our loved ones?

Good Question: Do you think car seats are useful for family members?

3) Questions shouldn’t be “double barrelled”: Questions that could have two possible responses should not be asked. They should be split up into two parts and asked separately.

Bad Question: Do good parents and responsible citizens use car seats?

Good Question: Do you think parents who use car seats are responsible?

4) Questions shouldn’t use “dramatics” or words that overstate the condition: Questions should be worded as neutrally as possible. Descriptive words that could exaggerate the scenario should be avoided as these could coax the respondent towards a particular answer.

Bad Question: Do you believe infant car seats can protect riders from being maimed?

Good Question: Do you think child car seats are useful?

5) Avoid extreme absolutes: It is best to avoid words that suggest extreme absolutes. These place respondents in a situation where they must fully agree or disagree with the position in the question. Some of these words are: all, any, anybody, best, ever, every, never, etc.

Bad Question: Do you always observe traffic signs?

Good Question: Do you observe traffic signs?

The questions in a survey act like the meat in a hamburger. They really are the most important part. Take your time crafting each one to make sure you’re asking exactly what you want to be asking while following the rules above, and you’ll be sure to get some great feedback!

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