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Tips and Tricks: How to Best Construct Survey Questions

Tips and Tricks: How to Best Construct Survey Questions

Creating and publishing a survey is like creating a tool to read your customers minds. But before you get overexcited and list down some 100 questions to ask your customers, give it some real thought. You need to make sure that you are asking the right types of questions and resist the temptation to ask everything in one go. Think about it like this: if you were a respondent, would you be delighted to answer a 100-question survey?
Probably not.

Writing an easy-to-answer online survey will help your respondents complete your questionnaire. This will give you better results, which can be very useful for whatever your research goal was. So, without further ado, find beneath 5 tips for constructing survey questions. Beware, though, that they are mostly aimed at simple surveys with a basic research goal (although it wouldn’t hurt to read it anyway of course).


Tip #1: limit your survey to 25 questions


As a general rule of thumb, your survey should not exceed more than 25 questions. Online surveys are tougher to complete as compared to printed surveys because you are competing with so many other things: sustained Internet connection, Facebook posts, instant messages, incoming emails, and eCommerce giants like Amazon and Zappos.

By limiting your survey questions to just 25, you are increasing the chances of the user completing your survey, giving your results more credibility. Got more than 25 questions? Group your questions together into categories and see which category is more important for you to roll out first. You can always have a part two of your survey after a couple of weeks.


Tip #2: group your questions into sub-topics


Divide your questions into at most 4 sub-topics. These will help to simplify the flow of your survey, and it also helps your respondents understand the context of each question.

For example, if your online survey is about online shoe-shopping habits, you can divide the survey into these sub-topics:


  • From which sites do you buy shoes?
  • From where do you learn about shopping for shoes online (blogs, online ads, email subscription etc.)?
  • How often do you buy shoes online?
  • How much do you spend each time you buy shoes online?

Grouping your questions into sub-topics also helps you make a focused online survey that sticks to your survey goals and targets.


Tip #3: for answers involving numbers, give a range


Make it easier for your users to answer your questions by giving ranges for answers in numbers, instead of leaving questions open-ended. This allows for easier responding for the respondent.


Tip #4: limit your use of matrix questions


Have you ever had to fill in some big matrix of questions? If you have, this tip will probably make sense for you. While matrix questions help in combining multiple questions into one field, it is best to not use them all the time. People might just check items without really thinking about it, so this can seriously harm your survey results.

If you must use them, use them only twice at the most in a single survey.


Tip #5: stay away from techie and industry terms


Think of your respondents as ordinary people who know nothing about your industry – do not scare them with techie or industry terms. If you feel like you need to explain a term to a respondent, then you need to simplify it further.

One good way to test this would be to ask your mom or your little sister to read through your survey to get some free feedback from them.



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Photo credit: Bilar Kamoon (thanks, Bilal)

Deanne Dalisay
Jan 07, 2014
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