How to write good survey questions

A well-designed survey sets the foundation you need to collect accurate responses and gain actionable insights. But a survey is only as good as the questions it asks. Poorly written, vague, or confusing questions can impact the quality of the answers a survey receives.

Designing an effective survey starts with learning how to write good survey questions that engage your audience, encourage participation, and gather useful data. Here are some tips for writing effective questions.

Elements of a good survey question

What separates a good survey question from a bad one? Here are a few tips for making sure your questions hit the mark.

  1. Be clear and concise. Use easy-to-understand language and be clear about what you’re asking. Focus on writing for a fifth- or sixth-grade reading level, so your survey will be easier for a general audience to understand. 
  2. Be specific. Don’t leave survey participants guessing or making assumptions about what you’re asking. Instead, be as specific as possible. For example, instead of asking, “Do you eat a healthy diet?” you could ask, “On average, how many servings of vegetables do you eat each day?”
  3. Break it down. Instead of packing too much information into one question, break things down into a series of related questions. One example is the topic of customer satisfaction. Instead of asking, “How satisfied are you with this service?” include questions about specific topics like product quality, customer service, delivery timelines, and more.
  4. Give mutually exclusive choices. Survey participants can get stuck if they don’t have clear choices. For example, instead of listing multiple-choice age groups as 10–20, 20–30, 30–40, etc., be sure to structure the options to not overlap: 10–19, 20–29, 30–39, etc.
  5. Give them an option to not answer. Some questions might feel too intrusive or personal to some participants. Instead of risking the chance that the respondent will reject the entire survey, allow them to skip the question using an “I prefer not to answer” option.

Create an overall survey strategy

Surveys are most effective when they have a unifying purpose and strategy behind them. If the questions feel random or cover a lot of unrelated topics, respondents can get confused.

So first, choose the specific topics you want to include in the survey, then write the questions. Group questions on the same topic together.

These tips can help you further design a strategy for your survey.

  1. Use different types of questions. Include a combination of multiple-choice questions, open-ended questions, and rating scales to gather both qualitative and quantitative data.
  2. Use the funnel technique. Begin with broad questions that are easy to answer. These simple questions warm up respondents before you present them with more complex questions. Finally, end with simple responses to encourage each participant to answer all of the questions.
  3. Keep it short. The length of the survey will affect your completion rates. In most situations, people aren’t willing to take the time to complete long surveys. Aim for a few short questions that the respondent can complete in five minutes or less.
  4. Incorporate conditional logic. Conditional logic uses the participant’s responses to guide them to only the questions that are relevant to them. For example, a specific answer may eliminate the need for a respondent to see additional questions. Using conditional logic helps boost completion rates, so you get more responses.

Common survey pitfalls to avoid

When you’re learning how to write good survey questions, be sure to avoid common pitfalls that could negatively impact your data collection. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re developing your survey.

  • Eliminate bias. Avoid writing survey questions that make assumptions about respondents’ experiences or identities, or are vague or unclear.
  • Avoid leading questions. The way you phrase a question can encourage respondents to give specific answers. For example, “How satisfied are you with our customer service?” assumes the person was somewhat satisfied with the service. Instead, ask questions like, “Did we solve your problem today?” 
  • Check for errors. Set a professional tone by proofreading every survey question. Common errors to avoid include the use of double negatives, typos, run-on sentences, and punctuation mistakes.

User-friendly survey tools

User experience has an impact on whether a person completes a survey. Jotform templates can help you optimize the user experience and improve the overall survey outcome.

Jotform’s survey maker includes a variety of features to improve the quality of your surveys, including

  • More than 280 mobile-friendly survey templates
  • Extensive customization and design options
  • Conditional logic
  • Embed codes to add surveys to web pages
  • A “save and continue later” option to allow respondents to save their progress
  • A progress bar
  • Jotform Report Builder to quickly visualize survey results
  • Jotform Tables to automatically add responses to a spreadsheet
  • Notifications when someone completes your survey
  • Data security with 256-bit SSL encryption
  • Kiosk mode for conducting surveys in the field
  • Offline surveys
  • Payment options

When you use quality survey creation tools and learn how to write good survey questions, you can collect any type of data from your target audience. Learn more about how Jotform surveys help your business or organization.

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