Writing great online survey questions may seem easy, but it’s also easy to make mistakes and end up not gathering the data that you really need. There’s no point in going to the trouble of developing and deploying a survey, only to find that it doesn’t provide the answers you were looking for. Here are six keys to writing survey questions that actually hit the mark and get you the information that you’re looking for.

1. Identify your objective

Know what you are looking for before you sit down to write up your online survey. Knowing exactly what knowledge you want and how your company will benefit from and apply that knowledge creates the foundation upon which your survey questions will be built.


2. Use words that are clear and unambiguous

There are many words that mean different things to different people. Don’t use words like “good” or “bad” unless you define what you mean by them. And try to be specific when referring to numbers, avoid words like numerous or few unless you don’t need exact metrics.

3. Avoid loaded questions

No matter how impartial people try to be, personal opinion will often leak through when compiling online survey questions. This is the main reason why surveys on controversial issues produce such bad data, and you can almost always know what the controversial survey’s findings will be, just by knowing who is funding the survey.

4. Avoid compound questions

You can usually spot a compound question because the word “and” will be in there somewhere. For example, “How much would you pay for coffee and a donut?” is actually two questions. It can force the respondent into a quandary. Maybe he doesn’t like donuts or maybe he drinks tea. Handle compound questions by breaking them up into two different questions. You’ll get more accurate data.

5. Keep it simple

Questions should be straightforward and easy to answer. Also, they should not require specialized knowledge that the respondent might not have. This is why knowing your target demographic is so important. Specific demographics can be asked specialised questions. But, only if you know what their knowledge base is likely to be.


6. Leave the back door open

Not everyone has had the same experiences or considers the same things to be important. If you don’t offer a choice like “don’t know” then there may be no way for the respondent to answer the question honestly and he or she may abandon the survey. Think of it this way, how many more people would vote if the list of politicians contained an option for none of the above.

Research success depends on accuracy. And accuracy depends on asking clear concise questions that leave no doubt about what is being asked. Review your questions from the respondents viewpoint. And always get feedback before you publish your online survey. Ultimately, preparing and deploying a survey comes down to writing great online survey questions, and this takes time.