Whether you’re doing scientific research, investigating the market for a new product or feature, or want to just find out the best place to open your next outlet—there’s only one obvious way to find out: a survey. It’s like magic: you put together questions, ask your followers and fans, and ta-da, you know what to do next.
But hey, have you paid attention to the details in creating the questions for your survey? A thoughtfully designed questionnaire will help you get better and trustworthy results. Here are 6 tips on how to build an effective survey, starting with the one thing that’s most important in a survey: questions.
1) Make sure each question is clear and direct: Questions that are vague and do not communicate your intent can limit the usefulness of your results. Avoid ambiguous words or response categories such as ‘regularly’ or ‘often’. Instead of “Do you regularly go to a gym?” ask “How many times per week…” Don’t leave anything to interpretation by respondents.
2) Be sure each question asks about a single topic: For example, “Does your company offer pension and health insurance benefits?” would be problematic for a respondent whose company offers one but not the other. The logical response in this situation would be “no.” Two simpler questions are easier to answer than one tricky one.
3) Put easy questions first: As for ordering the questions, you should put them in a logical order, and group questions on similar topics together. If possible, easier questions should come earlier in the survey.
4) Put difficult or personal questions at the end: If respondents see a tough question right at the beginning, for all they know, all the questions could be that difficult, and filling out the survey starts to look like a real hassle. But if they see it at the end, they may put in the effort since they know they’re almost done.
5) Add a “Prefer Not to Answer” option: Questions about income, occupation, finances, family life, personal hygiene, and personal, political, or religious beliefs can be too intrusive and be rejected by the respondent. These questions should be asked only when absolutely necessary. In addition, they should always include an option to not answer. (e.g. “Prefer Not to Answer”).
6) Do not make the list of response choices too long and be sure they don’t overlap: The more choices listed, the harder it will be for the respondent to evaluate them all. This is especially important when asking respondents to rank-order a list of items. Numeric ranges presented to respondents should be clear, without ambiguity and mutually exclusive. Avoid response choices such as 1-5, 5-10, 10-15, etc.
Questionnaire design is a learned skill and requires attention to more than just what questions are going to be asked. The types of questions, wording, answer choices provided and various other factors all contribute to creation of an engaging survey instrument.
As Studs Terkel said, “Don’t be an examiner, be the interested inquirer.”
In other words, if your questionnaire feels like an inquisition rather than a conversation, you need to reconsider the types of questions you are asking.