7 Best Practices for Creating Optimal Survey Questions

April 27, 2018

Nothing is more frustrating or demotivating than spending hours designing a survey, only to receive a limited number of responses from your recipients. In this article, we’ll discuss seven best practices to keep in mind so that you can create optimal survey questions.

By following these best practices, you’ll ensure that your survey is optimized to receive the amount of responses you need, and that those responses will provide actionable data that can then inform strategic decisions.

Take a look at our list of survey question best practices below!

7 Survey Question Best Practices to Keep in Mind for Optimal Results

#1: Use open-ended survey questions sparingly.

Open-ended survey questions require more effort from your respondents than close-ended, or structured survey questions. 

By including lots of open-ended survey questions in your questionnaire, you run the risk of your respondents experiencing survey fatigue

Oftentimes, survey administrators rely on open-ended survey questions when they have not performed enough exploratory research prior to distributing their survey. In order to acquire enough knowledge and information so that you don’t have to rely on open-ended survey questions, it’s a good idea to conduct secondary research prior to designing your survey.

#2: Refrain from asking unnecessary survey questions.

By not following this best practice, you again run the risk of your respondents experiencing survey fatigue. 

Once you’ve put together the first iteration of your survey, comb through it meticulously to see if any questions can be removed. 

Most often, you’ll find that some of your questions can be pared down in number due to redundancy. If two survey questions essentially ask the same thing, optimize one of them and remove the other from your survey. 

When evaluating your questions, consider the additional data you can derive from your previous survey questions. For example, if you ask respondents for their zip code of residency, you do not need to follow up with questions about which state and city they live in. 

#3: Pay close attention to your multiple choice survey questions.

Multiple choice survey questions require extensive review in order to confirm that all of them are mutually exclusive. 

A classic error that is commonly made in this regard occurs when asking respondents about their age. By presenting a multiple choice survey question to a respondent with the answer options of 0-20, 20-30, and 30-40 years old, you are not providing an opportunity for them to provide comprehensive or actionable data. 

If someone is 20 years old, for example, how will they know which answer option to select?

Instead, the answer options should be 0-20, 21-30, and 31-40 years old. This ensures that someone can accurately answer the question.

#4: Survey question answer options should be completely exhaustive. 

It’s important to remember that all answer options should be completely exhaustive. 

In the example above, there is no accurate answer option for a survey respondent over the age of 40 years old. In order to account for this circumstance, answer options should be presented for all possible age brackets. 

#5: Be consistent with the formatting of your survey questions.

This is a small detail that often goes unaccounted for. 

When using scales as answer options for your survey questions, it’s best practice to be consistent with the scales that you choose to use. 

For example, if you are using a five point scale for one question, don’t use an 11 point scale for questions that follow. 

#6: Prepare for when a question does not apply to a respondent.

Sometimes a question just simply does not apply to a particular respondent. 

If you are asking someone about how many years they’ve had a driving license, but they’ve lived in a city their whole life and have never gotten a license, then the survey questions does not apply to them.

This is why you should include answer options to your multiple choice survey questions such as “Not Available,” “Neutral,” or “Not Sure.” 

#7: Keep. It. Simple.

Keep your survey questions simple!

The last thing you want is for your respondents to be confused by your questions. This will lead to impaired responses, and an overall lack of informable, actionable data. 

Getting respondents to fill out all of the answers to your survey can be a challenge. If these respondents are confused by your questions, it’s probable that they will simply stop filling out the questionnaire. 

Once you’ve built your survey questions, review them thoroughly and try to see if everything is as trimmed down as possible, and everything is straightforward and comprehensible. Have a neutral third party review your survey questions to ensure that they make sense to someone who was removed from the survey build process. 

And there you have it! Seven best practices to keep in mind when developing your survey questions.

Follow these best practices to ensure that your survey is optimized to serve its purpose — providing you with actionable data!

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