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Writing survey questions

Writing responses to questions in a formMy earlier post listed some examples of poor survey questions I have come across, so now here are some tips for making your survey questions effective…

  1. Know what you are preparing the survey for – and how you will use the results. By planning the results, you will know what questions you need answered and be sure to word them to get the relevant answers. For instance, if you want to know if clients prefer green or blue so you can change your corporate colours, you won’t bother asking “Do you like pink?”
  2. make each question clearly different – if someone has to read a question two or three times to see why it is different to a previous question, they are likely to  give up or answer incorrectly. Be particularly careful to not ask the positive and negative for the same point.
  3. don’t just copy the same responses for every question. Yes, it is reasonable to give responses such as excellent and poor to some questions, but not if you ask “did the book help you?” A bit of variety is more interesting and makes it more likely people will read each question properly.
  4. check questions follow on from one to the next, especially if you are using software that provides different questions depending on earlier responses. For example, if someone answers “I don’t have children” to question 1, question 2 really shouldn’t ask “how old are your children?”
  5. Always provide a response for everyone. It is frustrating for someone who can’t give any of your responses as their answer so always include every option or a way of indicating nothing applies.
  6. Make sure every question and provided response makes sense. That means read every question/response pair individually. For example, “was the presentation interesting?” works, “was the presentation informative?” works but “was the presentation expectations?” doesn’t work.
  7. every question must be simple and clear – if the question is too complicated you can’t expect useful results. Simplify questions by
    • using simple and short words as much as possible
    • divide a long question into two parts if possible
    • give responses to choose from rather than an open ended question
    • staying to the point – and keeping to your purpose
    • keeping all question short – it’s much easier to complicate 12 words than 6!
  8. Always use good grammar and spelling so people aren’t confused or distracted by your errors.
  9. Present your survey well so people will actually read and respond to your well written questions!

Ideally, prepare the questions and leave them for a couple of days. Then reread each question to make sure it makes sense and will get the answers you are after. Once you are sure the questions are workable, ask someone else (or a few someone elses) to answer the survey for you and provide feedback on questions they weren’t sure of.

A well written and prepared survey can be a very valuable tool for your business so it is worth putting the time and effort into making it as good as you possibly can.

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