Survey Form Design

How to Write Great Survey Questions

When starting a survey project, most people look forward to the fun, creative part of writing the questions. However, it doesn’t take long to realize that writing great survey questions is not as easy as it looks. Questionnaire design is more science than art – requiring critical attention be paid to question and answer order, structure and phrasing to ensure you get the reliable, quality feedback you are looking for.

A simple question, such as “How much did you enjoy the program?” could wreak havoc in your results, because it is inherently biased towards a positive response. “How did you feel about the program?” would be a more effective approach. Other pitfalls include asking multi-part questions, having overlapping answer choices, or asking the more difficult questions too early.

But have no fear. Outlined below are the basic principles of questionnaire design, along with some helpful tips, that will have you writing great, effective survey questions in no time:

Before You can Start Writing Great Survey Questions 

    • Know your objectives. Write down the purpose of your survey scanning, what information you need, and how you plan to use the data.
  • Work backwards. Make a list of the specific answers you need first, and then use that to drive your questionnaire.

Basic Guidelines for Writing Great Survey Questions

    • Keep questions focused. Make sure each question is designed for specific feedback. Avoid double-barrel questions like “How do you feel about our products and services?” as some respondents will focus on products and others on services. Instead, separate them into two questions.
    • Put easier questions first. This will increase participation and establish trust. By getting comfortable with the survey research by answering a few less complex questions first, your participants will be more likely to answer the more complex or sensitive questions later.
    • Organize by topic. Similar questions should be grouped together so the questionnaire flows naturally.
    • Keep it short and simple. Questions should be short, focused, and easy to answer. This will ensure a higher response rate and limit survey fatigue.
    • Be consistent. Use uniform rating scales, word choices and definitions throughout your survey. If you start with 1=low and 5=high, stick with that format.
    • Be precise. Avoid generic answer choices like “sometimes” and “rarely”. Use actual numbers instead (e.g, “more than 3 times per week”).
    • Be balanced. Provide an equal number of positive and negative response options.
    • Be complete. Include all possible answers, and make sure there is no overlap between answer options.
  • Eliminate bias. Try to construct the questions as objectively as possible. Avoid leading questions like, “Can you see why this product was voted best in customer satisfaction?” Instead, ask how they would describe their satisfaction level.

Common Question Types

Survey questions fall into two categories: Structured (fixed response) where they choose from a provided list of answer options and Non-structured (open-ended) where they can fill in their own text or numeric answer. Both are extremely useful, depending on the type of feedback you need.

Following are the most commonly used question types:

Multiple Choice

These are questions with two or more answer options. These are useful for collecting structured responses.

Single Response Style (select one answer)

Example 1: Do you smoke?     Y / N

Example 2:  If yes, how many cigarettes do you smoke per day?

use multiple choice to write great survey questions   

A common pitfall here is missing a possible response. Depending on your question, you may need to add a choice called “none”, or if you would like additional details, you could try an “other” option with space for a written response. You also want to make sure there is no overlap, such as using 10-20, 20-30, etc. in the previous example, which would clearly taint the results.  

Multiple Response Style (you may select more than one answer)

Example 1:  What is your race? (check all that apply)

use multiple response style to write great survey questions

Rating Scales

Rating scales ask respondents to rate how much they agree with a certain statement using a common scale (e.g, 1 to 5, where 1=low and 5=high). These are useful for gauging their opinions, attitudes and behaviors. When using rating scales, it is important to make sure you have a neutral option and a balanced, equal number of positive and negative responses. Scales most commonly use 5 or 7 options.

Example 1: The teacher was knowledgeable.

Example 2:  How would you describe your experience navigating the instruction manual.

use rating scale to write great survey questions (sample 2)

Common pitfalls here include being inconsistent with your scales (leading some respondents to answer incorrectly) and asking leading questions, such as, “We pride ourselves on our easy-to-use manuals. How easy was our manual to read?”

Ranking Scales

These ask respondents to rank a list of items in order (e.g, from favorite to least favorite, or most important to least important). It is recommended that you use these with caution. They are known to be reliable at determining first and last place, but not so much the fuzzy middle, as respondents often have to choose a pecking order for items that are essentially of equal value to them.

Example 1: Please rank the following customer service features in order of most to least important when contacting our agency by phone (1=most important, 5=least important)

use ranking scale to write great survey questions

Open-Ended Questions

These are questions with no provided answers options. Respondents answer by writing in their own text. These are great for eliciting responses about attitudes and opinions in a respondent’s own words, or having them provide a numeric answer without a suggested range. The downside is it requires extra time, can cause survey abandonment, and makes data collection and analysis more challenging.

Example: Name two ways we could have improved your customer experience today?

Questionnaire integrity is critical for getting quality data. By following these tips and guidelines, you will be well on your way to success. 

For more information on question and survey design or any aspect of survey mail management, contact us today!

By |2019-03-20T10:51:08+00:00December 6th, 2018|Survey Research Services|0 Comments

Choosing the Right Sample Size

Choosing the right sample size is vital to accurate survey outcomes. With the right number of survey respondents, your target population will be represented with acceptable accuracy.  Although it may seem like a simple undertaking, you must put a lot of thought into determining your survey’s most effective sample size.

In most cases, the larger your sample size, the more confident you can be that the responses you receive reflect the total target population. However, there is another side to that coin. Deciding on a larger sample size requires you to distribute more surveys, and that drives up the cost of your survey project.  

It’s not as simple as randomly selecting a large sample size and assuming that will equate to successful response rates. The pitfall of using no forethought when selecting a sample size is that you may select a sample that is not statistically significant or will cause you to exceed your budget. To arrive at your optimum sample size, you must start by asking a few key questions.

1. How Large Is Your Target Population?

Choosing the Right Sample Size - How large is Your Target Population

You can begin to understand your sample size needs by first determining the size of the total population of possible respondents. If you want to understand something more large-scale, such as how grocery shoppers are using mobile devices, you will need to use a larger sample size. That’s because there are millions of grocery shoppers who use mobile devices. On the other hand, if you want to assess a smaller, more specific group, such as the opinions of the faculty at a particular university, the population is limited to a few thousand or even a few hundred.

2. How Accurate Do You Need to Be in Choosing the Right Sample Size?

Because you are only using a small sample group out of a larger target population, you must now make some decisions about accuracy. Your accuracy will depend on choosing an acceptable margin of error and accepted confidence level.  

Your margin of error measures how well the responses from your sample reflect the opinions of your entire target population. A commonly chosen margin of error is 5%. You must also keep in mind that lower margins of error require a larger sample size.

Your confidence level represents the degree to which your sample is an accurate sample of the population. If you decide your project requires a 95% confidence level, you are declaring that if you repeated your survey, you would get the same results 95% of the time. Higher confidence levels require a larger sample size.

3. What Is Your Expected Response Rate?

Arriving at an answer to the first two questions is relatively straightforward. First, determine the size of your target population. Then decide how accurate you want your survey results to be.

Now, on to the challenging part: estimating what your response rate will be. Estimating your response rate is often difficult; there are many factors that contribute to a respondent’s decision to complete and return your survey. The list of factors includes:

    • Questionnaire length
    • Question complexity
    • Importance of the survey to the respondent
    • Level of respondent interest in the survey
    • Availability of incentives

Fortunately, you are in control of most of these factors. Depending on your target population and the decisions you make about how you will administer your survey, your response rate can range from 1% to 60%. Lower expected response rates require a larger sample size.

For more tips on Survey Design, check our blog post on How to Write Great Survey Questions

Working with an Experienced Survey Administration Partner in Choosing the Right Sample Size

Your sample size has a direct impact on the validity and cost of your survey. Consequently, it’s crucial that you get that number right. Once you have determined the right sample size for your survey, there’s still more work to do. How will you distribute the surveys? How will you gather them and analyze the outcomes?  

This is where your survey administration partner can add value to the process. When you work with an experienced vendor, they can consult with you about the nature of your survey research and suggest choices that will help you achieve your goals in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

Your partner can help you measure your target population and decide on an appropriate margin of error and confidence level. In addition—although no two survey projects are ever exactly alike—your partner can rely on their experience with working with a wide range of organizations and projects to help predict what your response rate might be.

When you are planning your next survey project—and trying to understand your optimal sample size—consider getting help from an experienced survey administration partner.

If you’d like more information on incentives, project consulting services, survey research services, incentive fulfillment or survey mailing services in general, contact us today!

By |2019-05-24T19:47:16+00:00March 6th, 2018|Survey Research Services|0 Comments