5 Tips to Writing Good Survey Questions
Writing effective survey questions requires an understanding of the psychology behind human decision making..
Whether you have a business that is seeking feedback on a product/service, an educational institution that is conducting an empirical study, or you’re just looking for some ideas from your friends/family, surveys give us a way to collect information from a wide variety of sources and compile that data into graphs, charts, and more. The struggle with writing good survey questions, is how to word/create them in a way that doesn't end up skewing the data. After all, the point of a survey is to collect raw feedback about a topic or subject and then use that data to draw conclusions. If the data is in any way invalid, there can be no valuable conclusions derived
Quality survey data can be gathered in various ways, and today there are even tools designed to make surveys more engaging to the survey takers and more valuable to the survey designers. Today I want to talk about 5 specific tips for writing effective survey questions that collect the information you need, without compromising the quality of the customers responses.
1. Remove bias from your survey questions
This is kind of a no brainer, but bias can be difficult to avoid in creating survey questions, especially if the survey has to do with a highly specialized topic (for example: virtual reality platforms) or a project that you personally care deeply about. The best way to remove bias from a survey question is to first put yourself in the shoes of your target recipient (who are they, what is their experience with your topic) and provide answer options that don't assume anything subjective. In general, if something is based on an opinion (for example: the HTC Vive is the best VR headset in the market), you should either remove it from your survey or word it in a way that removes the assumption entirely. Objective matters (for example: clouds produce rain) are okay to use because they aren't necessarily opinions, and are much less likely to lead your respondents to a particular conclusion.
The reason it's important to remove bias from your survey questions comes down to the expected outcome of the survey. If your survey is about evaluating product market fit and assessing a customer's understanding of the relative competitive landscape, it would work in your detriment to ask questions that assume your product is superior or inferior to the competition. Instead of asking "why is product A deemed lower quality than product B" (which assumes an inferiority), you should instead ask a question like "which product has been most useful for you- A or B?"
By removing bias from your survey questions, you can get higher quality responses and save yourself a lot of time from scraping bad data. Bias is also especially relevant in news and media publications, and is the cause for a lot of frustration from the politically tuned masses.
2. Leverage unique formats for your survey questions
Plain text surveys are boring and in many cases, lead to low quality responses, as people tend to breeze through them without giving much more than a passing thought. This would obviously be an ineffective set of survey answers, so we have to level up our formatting skills in order to invoke a more genuine and careful response, as well as to increase response rates in general. One best practice (and most forward thinking way) for doing this is to use audio or video based survey questions, which require a higher level of commitment from respondents and help mitigate potentially poor quality responses.
The company known as Phonic (featured in TechCrunch) has devised a platform for creating surveys that require voice (audio) or video responses to questions. As a survey creator, you can leverage and integrate their platform with whichever survey hosting service you use. That, plus their free-to-enter pricing model makes it an easy solution to increase the quality of your surveys. Because audio and video survey formats have not been previously explored, leveraging a tool like Phonic can make your surveys stand out as superior and give you higher fidelity responses. They take things a step further by using AI to extrapolate meaningful data from the responses, which is also a time saver.
3. Choose the correct survey question type
A lot of how your respondents will be engaging your survey is dependent on the types of questions you're asking them- from a formatting standpoint. To keep this simple:
- Double barreled questions present more than one issue, but allow for only one answer.
- Ex: How satisfied are you with the material and pace of this article? Answers: unsatisfied, neutral, satisfied.
- Multiple choice questions present a single issue and require a single response.
- Ex: Which color is your favorite? Answers: red, blue, green, purple.
- Open ended questions require the user to answer without saying "yes" or "no" and are good for longer format responses.
- Ex: What was your favorite experience aboard this cruise? Answer: _________________
- Leading questions subtly prompt the user to respond in a particular way. Typically, this includes bias and is not advised for surveys seeking true, organic feedback. That said, they do have their place in surveys that are seeking to prove something.
4. Mind the length and intensity of your survey questions
People have short attention spans and if your survey asks too many specific questions, you might lose the integrity of your respondents. Depending on the topic of your survey, you should aim to keep the questions as short and concise as possible, if you wish to gather valuable feedback. Questions that sound too similar to others, might confuse the respondent and reduce the quality of your data. Likewise, too many different questions might exhaust them and lead to sloppy decisions that don't reflect their true opinion.
This is another reason why integrating more unique survey question types can help- by introducing audio and video questions with platforms like Phonic, you can break the mold that respondents often find themselves in, and encourage a more engaging response. As a general rule of thumb, try to keep your survey to no more than 10 questions, less if possible. Of course, this will depend on your topic.
5. Leverage required survey questions when needed
Thanks to technology, we can now ask survey questions and require responses in order to submit. This is a great and simple strategy of getting people's participation, but keep in mind that requiring answers can also sway the choice of the respondent. If a question appears confusing to a respondent and they are forced to answer it, there's a good chance they'll make a random decision and not truly understand what they chose. In this situation, it might have been better to let them skip the question entirely. On the other hand, in situations like classrooms (where everyone just wants to breeze through and get on with their lives) it might be beneficial to require question answers, if at the very least to get user participation.
Overall, a good survey comes down to asking the right questions and following best practices. Each topic and niche will have a variety of different people with different personality types, preconceived notions, biases, and more. As a survey creator, it's up to you to truly understand what data you're seeking and how you can gather it in the most genuine, unbiased way.
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