Did you know that designing a strong survey questionnaire can actually improve the quality of your results? Writing questions may seem like a simple task, but there are many elements to consider when drafting a survey questionnaire. If you want to get the best results from your research, here are some best practices to follow when designing a survey.
Create your questionnaire with the respondent in mind.
Respondent experience has a big impact on your survey results. When creating a survey, it’s important to consider the respondent who will be completing it. You should always keep in mind that respondents are real people who are taking the time to participate in your study; without them, you wouldn’t be able to get the valuable data you need. So, the first question you should ask yourself is: would you want to take this survey? If you are designing a survey that you wouldn’t want to take yourself, it’s safe to assume your respondents will feel the same way.
A positive respondent experience goes a long way. When respondents are able to easily complete your survey, they are likely to be more engaged, which means you’re likely to get better responses from them. Here are some reasons why you (the researcher) will benefit from designing a survey that gives respondents a positive experience.
- Lower sample quality: When respondents aren’t engaged with your survey, they are less likely to provide thoughtful responses. Faced with questions that are confusing or difficult to answer, many respondents will start speeding through the survey just to get to the end. That means the results may not meet your quality standards, despite having respondents who are correctly matched with your survey.
- Longer fielding time: Poor survey design can cause poor conversion rates, which can increase the time it takes to finish fielding. In addition, if your survey has a high dropout rate, suppliers are less likely to send respondents to your survey. Suppliers care about keeping their respondents interested in taking surveys, so they place a high value on preserving the respondent experience. All these factors can affect your workflow and your deadlines.
- Higher sample cost: Because poorly designed surveys lead to higher dropout rates, you may have to further incentivize respondents by paying them more for survey completes. That means you may need to set a higher CPI (cost per interview) to ensure that your study finishes fielding on time.
How can you tell if your survey questionnaire is well-designed?
Let’s say you’re about to create a new survey – how can you be sure that your questions are well-written? The goal is to make it as easy as possible for survey takers to clearly understand and respond to your questionnaire. Follow these simple tips:
Avoid questions that are leading or vague: Try not to introduce your own opinions by asking leading questions, such as “We are already a top-ranked company, but how can we improve further?” In addition, avoid asking yes/no screening questions, which can be vague and lead respondents to surveys they don’t qualify for.
Respect respondents’ privacy: Personal questions about age, ethnicity, income, family life or political preferences can lead respondents to skip questions or leave the survey entirely. Ask these questions only when necessary, and always provide a “prefer not to answer” option for respondents.
Opt for shorter surveys: Long surveys lead to fatigue, leading respondents to either drop out or provide less thoughtful answers. The ideal survey has a LOI (length of interview) shorter than 15 minutes – this will generate the best traffic and conversion rates. Compose your questions carefully and concisely.
Use straightforward questions: Including “double barrelled” questions with multiple points or ideas (such as asking about product quality and customer service in a single question) can lead to poor results. Instead, ask individual questions for each topic that you want responses for.
Have fair expectations of survey takers: It’s important to be thoughtful about how you conduct quality or attention checks during a survey. Respondents can become impatient when questions are asked in different ways, over and over. When researchers intentionally include repeat questions to measure the consistency of a respondent’s answers, the result is often a negative perception about the survey.
Break up the wall of text: Readability is important. Your survey should include engaging content and visuals and present information in a way that is digestible and easy to read. Avoid long, overly-detailed questions. We suggest writing questions at an average (approximately 7th grade) reading level, which will help you reach respondents who may not have a high reading comprehension.
Survey formatting is just as important as its design.
A strong questionnaire won’t matter if respondents can’t navigate your survey. Here are some important points to consider about survey format.
- Mobile optimization: Roughly 65% of online survey takers are participating in research on their mobile phones. Make sure your survey is mobile friendly by avoiding grid questions, complex interfaces and large bodies of text, and limit the number of open-ended questions to five.
- Avoid repetitive grid questions: Using repetitive grid questions often leads to respondents straight lining, speeding through the survey, or abandoning the survey entirely. While this is especially common for respondents using mobile devices, it also affects desktop users. If you reduce the number of grid question sets and replace them with straightforward multiple-choice questions, you are likely to get better responses.
- Test your survey: Be sure to test your survey before you launch it – and include testing for mobile devices. This will help you find any broken links or page loading issues before the survey is sent to respondents.
We know designing a survey takes a lot of time and effort, so it’s important to get it right! Having a strong questionnaire is the first step to getting the best responses from survey takers. If you invest the time in creating a careful, thoughtful questionnaire and you can expect to have better quality data, lower cost studies and faster results. Contact our team if you have additional questions about improving your survey design!