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Updates from CFR

6 Rules for Writing Successful Survey Questions

Posted by Colson Steber on 08/6/2018

successful-survey-questionsDesigning survey questions is not the time to satisfy your latent desire to be the next great William Shakespeare or David Sedaris or Agatha Christie. No matter how much you long to demonstrate your mastery of words or your comedic flair or your ability to enthrall, surveys should be straightforward, simple and totally free of the kind of creativity that sparks thoughtful rumination about complex context and/or complex meaning.

Survey respondents are short on time and don’t want to bother wondering what the heck you really mean. So, suppress the urge to experiment with language and refrain from testing your individual writing prowess; follow these six tips for writing successful survey questions, instead:

Check Your Grammar

Respect your audience and yourself by taking the time to ensure that your grammar and spelling are correct. This demonstrates that you believe your respondents are smart enough to notice otherwise and also indicates that you value doing something well rather than simply doing something fast.

Use Familiar Words

Consider the educational background of your respondents and use words that they will recognize and understand. Write your questions as if you are talking to a friend and not delivering a speech to Congress.

Ask Only What’s Necessary

Keep surveys as short as possible by asking only what you need to know. Don’t think respondents won’t notice if you try to sneak in more than you said you would. People don’t want to waste their time and don’t like to be misled.

Keep Things Simple

Like your language, your survey structure should be simple. Ask one question at a time, starting with broad questions and ending with more focused ones.

Avoid Force

Play nicely. Don’t make respondents choose an answer just because a better one doesn’t exist. This might mean you offer a “None of the Above” and/or “Other” option. It could also mean that you do not force respondents to answer one question before moving to the next or use absolute or ambiguous statements that prohibit respondents from accurately describing their realities.

Check Your Bias

We all do things that unconsciously reveal our thoughts or beliefs. Review your survey for instances where your word choices reflect a bias or encourage emotional response. Think about how your wording could unintentionally lead respondents to certain answers.

Need More Tips?


Writing good survey questions doesn’t mean you can’t be imaginative or have fun with the process. You just have to follow some guidelines to ensure that the data you glean is representative of your target audience and reliable. If you need more tips, check out Engage, a handbook written by our colleagues at Global Research Business Network. You may also contact our Communications for Research (CFR) team; we have over 20 years experience in the market research industry and know how to create surveys that produce credible and actionable results.

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Topics: online surveys , survey

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