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The Ultimate Guide to Survey Questions

How to write great survey questions

Great survey questions reliably measure what it is you're attempting to ask and are the most important consideration when learning how to make a survey. Before you begin your questionnaire design you should review the topics you're wishing to cover in your survey. Are their surveys which have already addressed the research which could help shorten the length of yours? Are there specific guidelines within your field for survey design?
Providing you've done your research the following tips will help to ensure you write good survey questions.

Tips to write great survey questions:

  1. Use short and simple language
  2. Ask for only one piece of information per question
  3. Avoid being too narrow or too broad
  4. Fit the level of knowledge of the respondent
  5. Place more general questions before the more specific
  6. Are reviewed by peers/experts
  7. If close-ended they include all possible responses
  8. They do not lead or include assumptions
The add question dialog of Survey Maker

What are examples of bad survey questions?

It's surprisingly easy to ask bad survey questions. The following example from pew research highlights how great an impact question design can have on results.

When people were asked whether they would favor or oppose taking military action in Iraq to end Saddam Hussein's rule, 68% said they favored military action while 25% said they opposed military action. However, when asked whether they would favor or oppose taking military action in Iraq to end Saddam Hussein's rule even if it meant that U.S. forces might suffer thousands of casualties, responses were dramatically different; only 43% said they favored military action, while 48% said they opposed it.
Pew Research

Bad survey questions do not measure what it is you're intending to learn. They're at best unreliable measures and often completely invalid measures. The follow is common in bad survey questions

  1. Include loaded assumptions "Please rate how much you enjoyed..."
  2. Use vague language and are not to the point "What do you think of the president?"
  3. Don't include all possible answers
  4. Do not precisely assist in understanding the research topic
  5. Asks redundant and unnecessary questions

If you're considering a career in qualitative research take a look at questions about questions

What is the difference between qualitative and quantitative survey questions?

Quantitative survey questions ask for values and are concerned with quantities or results which are represented with numbers. How much, how often etc etc Qualitative questions seek to learn about qualities which are subjective and are represented with symbolic language.

A prudent question is one-half of wisdom
Francis Bacon

What is the difference between open ended and close ended questions?

A close ended question provides a fixed number of options from which a respondent can choose from. It is important to ensure you have provided all the possible answers when asking a close ended question. Open ended questions allow the respondent to elaborate on their answer in a text box. There are no fixed options to choose from so it is important your question is specific.

Example of close ended question
Close Ended Question
Example of open ended question
Open Ended Question
The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he's one who asks the right questions.
Claude Levi-Strauss

Most popular survey question types

Multiple Choice

Multiple choice questions provide a fixed list of options from which a respondent can choose from. Multiple choice questions allow a user to select only one answer although survey designers often allow users to select 'Other' and enter an option which isn't listed. This is the most popular question type and you should prioritize it in survey where response rate is important. Multiple choice questions allow a user to respond quickly and easily which tends to improve response rates.

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Checkboxes

Checkboxes are similar to multiple choice but allow a user to select multiple answers at once. Your question might include language like "Choose all that apply". These questions like multiple choice are very easy for survey respondents to answer.

Text

Text based questions are open ended questions which allow users to elaborate on their answers. You can allow a single line or multiple lines to prompt either a short or long answer in your survey. These type of questions are suitable when a user is motivated to respond and response rates are not anticipated to become an issue as they require more effort and time to respond to.

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Number Range

A number range includes a slider scale or input box which allows users to select a number from a small or large range. If you wanted users to rate satisfaction on a scale of 1 to 100 a multiple choice question would need to contain 100 answers which would be cumbersome and difficult to respond to. A sliding scale or input box allows users to quickly enter an answer from a large possible range of options. Modern survey creators allow you to specify lower and upper limits for your number range.

It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.
Eugene Ionesco

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