Spark Chart Surveys

Focus on making your survey questions more effective

One you have established the aims and objectives for your survey, you have to write the survey questions. It sounds easy, right? Writing questions is easy, but writing effective questions means avoiding some common mistakes. Even the simplest of questions can be made more effective.

In this simple article you will learn eight easy ways of making your survey questions more effective.

1. Write simple, specific survey questions

Your goal, even in the most complicated situations, is to create a survey question that readers will understand. If they have to re-read it, then it can be simplified. The fastest way to do this is to use everyday language – like we have here in this article.

If you are not sure whether the questions are simple enough, try piloting the survey. Test them on colleagues, friends, or even children. If your 10-year-old can understand what to do, then you have done a great job.

2. Use clear, specific words

People often use phrases that need to be interpreted. Some words – like most, many, several and numerous could mean, well, anything! Different people will give those words different meanings. Consider what you are really asking, and find a more specific way of doing that. If you are looking for the majority, use that word. If you are looking for one or two, use that phrase instead.

3. Limit the options you give in ranking questions

For survey questions that ask respondents to rank items in order of preference (or importance), limit yourself to about six items. To rank a longer list takes some powerful thinking (for example, is number 10 more important than number 2?), which means it takes longer to complete. Questions that take longer to complete tend to result in more abandoned surveys.

If you’re in a situation where you need to get feedback on more than six items, consider making two questions. You might also find that a limit forces you to rethink what is the best way of getting the information you need.

4. In multiple choice survey questions, don’t overlap the options

For multiple choice survey questions that only have one answer, make sure that the options don’t overlap each other. An overlap happens when some of your respondents could choose more than one option. For example, a set of age ranges that include 10-15 and 15-18.

Instead, split the options so that which one to choose is crystal clear. Such as, 10-14, 15-18. Removing overlaps has two outcomes: Cleaner data, and clarity for your respondents.

5. Avoid asking two questions in one

Also known as ‘double-barrelled’ questions, this is a really common mistake. Here’s an example: Where would you go for dinner and a movie?

This kind of survey question asks your respondent to give one answer for what is really two questions. Some of your respondents would prefer to go to Harbortown for dinner, but the city for a movie. By splitting the questions out, you will get a much more accurate answer, and more valid data as a result.

6. Give people the ‘out’ option

Sometimes your respondents don’t want to answer certain questions, or won’t answer them. This can happen because of lack of experience, prefer to keep some things private, or even aren’t sure how to respond. For questions like this, include rating scale options such as does not apply, don’t know, or prefer not to say.

7. Limit list options

In some situations, you might find that offering every type of possible option results in a list that gets longer, and longer, and still might not be right. So, while it’s hard to put an exact number on how many items you can have in a list, a good guide is to go with the most common options and offer an ‘other’ option.

For example, if you want to know the route each student in your class takes to school, instead of listing every possible route (for which there would be a great number), include the most likely ones. Then, for students who take different routes, they can select ‘other’.

8. Avoid asking tiring questions

By asking respondents to recall distant memories, you are asking them to do something very difficult. Especially if they are everyday events! A good example is asking how many times someone has flown to Melbourne in a year. It suddenly gets much more difficult if you ask them how many ads for Melbourne city they’ve seen in the past year.

There is a formula that you can stick to that will help you. That is, More common events = shorter window of recall.

Keep this list as a reference and test your surveys

When your survey questions are finalised, test them against this list. How did you go? Very often, small edits can mean a world of difference between an effective and an ineffective question.

Taking the extra time to get your questions right is always worth it. Remember that your survey is something for which your respondents are gifting you their time. It is the least you can do to make their experience simple and easy, and that give you the best, most insightful results.


Get the support & tools to become a survey expert

Are you getting the feedback you need? Get Spark Chart. Serious software for serious surveys.

Our Mission

“To help you become a survey expert.”