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6 Tips for Writing More Effective Survey Questions

Writing solid and unbiased is a skill. While some may think that designing a questionnaire is easy, proper questionnaire construction is one of the most important steps in achieving a successful research project.

Well-designed surveys will aid in increasing the willingness of respondents to complete the survey, as well as improving the accuracy of data collected.

Here are some tips and items to look for when evaluating a survey questionnaire that will help you collect valid survey responses.

1. Avoid Leading Questions

Leading questions suggest the particular answer or contains the information the researcher is looking to have confirmed.

EXAMPLE: We have recently enhanced our menu to become a first class restaurant. What are your thoughts on our new first class menu?

REPLACE WITH: How would you rate the changes to our menu?


2. Avoid Loaded Questions

Loaded questions contain controversial or unjustified assumptions and suggest to the respondent that the researcher expects a certain answer.

EXAMPLE:  Don’t you agree that elementary school teachers should earn more money than they currently earn?

REPLACE WITH: Do you believe elementary school teachers’ salaries are a little lower than they should be, a little higher than they should be, or about right?


3. Avoid Built-in Assumptions

Do not assume the respondent is familiar with the specifications asked within the questions. Make sure you include details or additional information to give the respondent a frame of reference in answering the question.

EXAMPLE:  Are you satisfied with your current auto insurance? (Yes or No)

REPLACE WITH: Are you satisfied with your current auto insurance?

___ Yes

___ No

___ Don't have auto insurance


4. No jargon - Use Simple Language

Use words that are direct and familiar to the respondents. Do not assume that respondents are familiar with the topic that you are testing in the survey.

EXAMPLE:  Are you in favor of Proposition 13?

___ Yes

___ No

___ Undecided

REPLACE WITH: Proposition 13 would change the regulations governing casinos in Alabama and would allow casinos to expand the games allowed, size of bets, and hours of operation. If this proposal were being voted on in an election today, would you vote Yes or No?


5. Avoid Double Negatives or Double-Barreled Questions

A double-barreled question asks a question that touches upon more than one issue, yet allows only for one answer.

EXAMPLE: Please tell me whether you would vote for or against a candidate who supports reducing federal spending on education and welfare?


Q1: Please tell me whether you would vote for or against a candidate who supports reducing federal spending on education?

Q2: Please tell me whether you would vote for or against a candidate who supports reducing federal spending on welfare?


6.  Do Not Ask Respondents to Order or Rank a Series of More Than Five Items

It is difficult for respondents to order or rank a long list of items in a survey. This is particularly true for telephone surveys. Limiting the number of items to five will make it easier for the respondent to answer.

Finally, it’s best to keep surveys short and to the point. Respondents prefer closed-ended questions because these are faster and easier to complete and require less effort on their part.  A mass of unfocused open-ended answers are often less powerful than simple questions about what someone thinks about an issue, product, or service.  

If you need additional help on your project, please contact us and let us know how we can help.