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When you have a question about your business and want to hear the opinion of others, there’s just one obvious way do it: through a survey. Questions like what new product to offer, what old services your customers want to use again, what new features to add, or where to open your next store are necessary to get the pulse of the market.

Surveys are like magic. You put together some questions, ask your market to answer them, and you’ll have the answers that would help you decide what to do next. They look simple, but in reality, they rarely are.

Slightly change the questions and you can vastly impact the value of the results. And negative results can lead to bad decisions. It’ll be ironic since a bad decision is the very thing you set out to avoid by conducting a survey in the first place.

Ask the wrong question or ask the right question the wrong way, and you’ll end up with a product or service no one intends to patronize. This is the reason why a thoughtful survey design is important. A well-curated survey helps you get better and more reliable results.

How to Start

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It’s simple to kick off the writing process by brainstorming a summary of questions to ask. For sure, your head is stuffed with queries you want to throw to your clients, and it’s quite easy to just input them into a survey software and call it a day.

However, that is hardly the best way to create your questionnaire. Instead, start your creative process by figuring out the answers you need. You want workable responses, and you’ll be more than likely to get that by outlining the answers you want. This can be a straightforward answer or a more complex hypothesis you can test later on.

Sit a while. Think of what you need from the survey. Note each answer you want. Save space for the points you intend to learn. When you have completed this exercise, use the summary to construct questions for your survey.

Using the list of answers as a guide ensures that you incorporate all the concerns you need, and phrase them in a way that will guarantee helpful answers. It’ll likewise keep you from inflating your questionnaire with probes that don’t matter.

Survey Question Types

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As you turn your answers into questions, you must give thought to what sort of queries you have to ask. Surveys are not just about yes and no questions. The form of a question you use will affect the responses you get and the assessment you make.
Here are the most predominant forms of questions you can use in a survey.

Categorical Questions

If you’re searching for simple figures, such as “40 percent of people answered ABC” or “55 percent of women and 45 percent of men…” then use the following forms of question-making:

  • Yes/No.
  • Checkbox.
  • Multiple choice.

These forms are nominal ways of asking questions. Evaluation of categorical questions may include counts and percentages, such as “100 participants” or “20 percent of customers.” These are ideal for bar graphs and pie charts.

Ordinal Questions

When answers have a clear order, such as “Payment of $10-$20K, $21K-30K, $31K+”, they are called ordinal questions. You can pull together ordinal data with multiple choice questions, or you can use a drop-down or ranking inquiries. Evaluation for ordinal questions is comparable to the assessment for nominal questions: you get counts and percentages.

Interval/Ratio Questions

For the most exact information and comprehensive analysis, use either the interval or ratio form of a question. These queries enable you to carry out a complex study: acquiring averages, screening correlations, and managing regression models. You need to use a ranking scale, matrix, or text fields in your questionnaire.
Interval queries are questions often asked on a scale of one to five or one to seven, such as from “Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree” or from “Always to Never.” Ratio inquiries yield a zero response. Sometimes, they request participants to type in an actual number into the questionnaire, such as “how many glasses of water do you drink per day?”

Best Practices for Creating Survey Questions

Customer Success Industry Report 2016 

Now that you have a summary of the answers you want, you’re ready to create questions for your survey. Before you compose pages stuffed with detailed queries, adhere to these guidelines to create productive survey questions:

Use simple words

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Avoid using big words, confusing phrases, and terms that may have multiple connotations. Your questions must be clear, straightforward, and brief.

Break down broad ideas into multiple questions

A different way to handle a wide range of ideas that may mean different things to others is by splitting them down into many concrete questions.

Customer satisfaction is a standard topic that companies explore, and it’s a big concept loaded with small ideas. Rather than inquiring “How happy are you with this service?” you can instead ask participants to give their honest opinion on three separate statements (prompting them to weigh in on a scale of “Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree”):

  •  I enjoy using the service.
  •  This service suits my needs.
  •  I will acquire this service from this company again.

The specific statements offer conception of various components of your business. The average of the results presents a general measure of customer satisfaction you can monitor over time and aim to improve. Collectively, the three questions provide an exact, workable answer about customer satisfaction.

Be specific

Be Specific

Some ideas may mean something else entirely to different people. Try to be as specific as you can. For instance, rather than asking “Do you exercise on a regular basis?” you can ask “How many times a week, on average, do you exercise?” This provides you with a more accurate, objective answer.

Avoid using leading questions

At times, your points of view may leak into the questionnaire, subtly persuading participants to respond in a particular manner. This makes the final output a compromised result.

For instance, inquiring “Do you feel the university should reduce the food service budget to pay for additional night guards?” is likely to prompt a different response than asking, “Should the university hire additional night guards to protect students with night classes?” even if both questions are based on a similar subject.

To prevent leading questions, ask a colleague to review your questionnaire for any probes that appear like they have a right or wrong response. If your associate can speculate what sort of answer you’re interested in, think about rewriting the question.

Ask one thing for every question

Ask one thing for every question

Each question on your list must ask one thing, and one thing only. It appears simple enough, but a lot of survey writers get caught in the “double-barreled” topic trap. For instance, “Do you eat fruits and vegetables every day?” can actually be a tricky question to answer. What if somebody just eats fruits or just eats vegetables?

There is no clear way for the survey participants to answer this question. A more sensible option is to separate the question into two individual ones. You can easily spot double-barreled questions by looking for words like “and” or “or” in your queries.

Incorporate more interval questions.

One easy way to elevate your survey from good to great is by changing your Yes/No and multiple choice inquiries to interval questions. Compose a statement, and ask survey participants to answer it on a one-to-five or one-to-seven scale. This will promptly improve the quality of evaluation you can conduct from the survey results.

Researchers use scales since they do a satisfactory job in catching the variance in responses without triggering information overload. It might appear like having a scale of 1-100 can help you record very detailed responses, but it actually prompts participants to answer 0, 50, or 100. By using the scale of one to five or one to seven helps you get more precise, nuanced responses from participants.

Survey Dangers to Avoid

Survey Dangers to Avoid

Once you’ve created your survey questions and responses, you’re ready to check if you haven’t slipped into these danger zones.

Prejudice

Survey response prejudice is an unfortunate but critical truth to consider when writing surveys. Getting data like gender or race at the outset of the questionnaire may influence how participants react to the rest of the survey. This situation is the stereotype threat. For instance, studies show that when girls specify their gender ahead of a math test, they perform worse on the exam than girls not required to specify their gender.

The majority of survey writers avoid prejudice and stereotype threat by inquiring about sensitive information – such as those about sexual category and orientation, ethnicity, and annual income – at the end of the survey.

Prejudice happens on a smaller level, too. Asking a participant “How vital do you think content is?” followed by “How much are you planning to invest in content marketing?” can create bias. If someone claims they feel content is essential, they may blow up the dollar amount they intend to invest in the next question. Randomizing query order is the best approach to avoid this bias.

Prejudice may also occur when you translate the survey. Without knowing it, you could handle one person’s viewpoint in a different way just because of their demographic responses. Sometimes you may not want to collect any demographic information at all to generate an anonymous research, something prevalent in academic study.

Framing

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The phrasing used in survey directions regarding why a study is being done can influence the way participants respond to questions. For instance, framing a customer service follow-up survey as an assessment of an associate may encourage participants to be more favorable than if you presented the questionnaire as a resource to better your operations.

Inquiring “Did Sally fix your problem properly?” may inspire better answers since participants are being inquired about a specific, real person. However, you need high-quality responses, so inquiring “Did we fix your problem today?” is an unbiased approach to phrase the same question.

People are predisposed to helping others, even strangers. If you inform them that the survey has a purpose, they may respond to questions in a manner that assists you to reach that goal, rather than responding to the queries in total honesty. To avoid this, aim to be neutral when you explain the survey and provide instructions.

Incomplete Choices

Any time questions are asked on a scale, participants may get annoyed if there isn’t a neutral choice. Neutral choices are typically managed two ways: offering participants a “Neither Agree nor Disagree” choice mid-scale and providing them an “N/A” choice at the end, should the query not apply.

Participants may also get frustrated with your survey when it drives them to respond to questions in ways that are not accurate. For instance, if you ask “What is your favorite drink?” and only present sodas and juices as options, people who love alcohol beverages have no clear and correct response choice. A simple way to get around this is to present an “Others” option.

An even better option is to ensure that you’re offering effective response choices by pre-testing your survey and letting participants discuss answer choices you may have missed.

Ideas about Survey Format

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Keep your questionnaire short by limiting the quantity of queries you ask. Lengthy surveys can cause “survey fatigue.” When this hits, participants quit or stop paying attention, checking random boxes until the survey is complete. In either case, you will end up with compromised data.

Piecing together your ideal “list of answers” prior to creating your survey helps you ensure that the questions that must be asked, are the only questions asked. Assess the inquiries you’ve created for that list of answers. If you find any pointless or excess questions, take them off the survey.

Regardless of how much thought and hard work you put into developing your survey, it’s likely to have weaknesses -and that’s all right. No survey is perfect, but investing time, effort, and thought into the preparation and creation methods will bring you much closer to obtaining the responses you need. And that is the ultimate objective, the survey is merely a tool to get you there.

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Posted by Igor Ovsyannykov

I'm a digital nomad and entrepreneur bouncing around South East Asia. When I'm not working here, I'm out taking photos. Follow me on Instagram: @igorovsyannykov

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