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How to Write a Survey for Effective Data Collection | IntelliSurvey


Surveys make it easier to perform tasks such as collecting feedback, performing employee evaluations, planning events, and more. However, getting all the details right when creating a survey is more challenging than it looks. Organizations employ surveys to obtain data that inform marketing strategies and other important decisions, but what goes into creating a survey with effective questions?

There are a handful of best practices to follow when creating the perfect survey. An effective survey is usually quick, painless, and easy to understand for the respondent. If your surveys aren’t yielding meaningful data or helping you move closer to your goal, you might be cramming too much into them. Learn more about what makes an engaging survey and the best practices you should follow while making them below.

What Makes a Survey Great?

Great surveys should be meaningful, concise, and easy to follow. Survey designs should be clear enough for participants to understand. Clear survey designs shouldn’t leave the respondent with lingering questions of their own after completing the survey. Questions that feel random or out of place can cause respondents to lose focus while taking the survey. If you have doubts about your survey design, ask yourself the following questions.

  • Are the questions on this survey easy to read and comprehend?
  • Will respondents understand the point behind each question?
  • Does every question on this survey elicit a specific response?

Next, if a survey seems cumbersome and time-consuming, participants will likely disengage from it. Ideally, surveys should take 20 minutes or less to complete. When creating a survey, ensure that your questions are short and to the point. Long-winded questions that ask respondents more than one thing at a time might also lead to unreliable responses, as participants might not be able to answer both items accurately with one option. A good rule of thumb when crafting your survey questions is to ensure each question asks for one answer at a time.

Finally, every survey should be meaningful. Your surveys should only include need-to-have questions that get the point across. When creating engaging survey questions, ensure that they:

  • Will help you achieve your primary objective and help you obtain the data you are looking for
  • Will produce meaningful insights and results
  • Are relevant to the topic at hand

Effective Survey Writing Best Practices

When crafting an effective survey, it’s crucial to have a clearly defined purpose and the correct audience. Once you have a clear objective and know your target audience, the next step is to create a questionnaire that’s easy for respondents to follow. When developing surveys, keep the following 11 best practices in mind.

  1. Define a clear purpose for your survey
  2. Create screener questions to reach your target audience
  3. Tailor your questions to gain insights
  4. Keep questions concise and simple
  5. Ask one question at a time
  6. Avoid leading questions or questions with bias
  7. Implement response scales when appropriate
  8. Don’t make the survey too long
  9. Consider featuring incentives
  10. Review your survey before sending it
  11. Get help from the pros

Define a Clear Purpose for Your Survey

To collect better data, you need to know how to write effective survey questions, and that starts with outlining the goals and purpose of your survey. Your survey’s objective should be a clear, attainable, and relevant goal; or something measurable. For example, why does customer engagement drop off at a certain point during the sales pitch? In this case, your survey’s purpose is to understand what factors cause engagement to drop at that point in the sales process.

For every survey, you want to define a specific goal that is relevant and measurable. Doing so will help you create questions that yield data that you can compare against your goal.

Create Screener Questions to Reach Your Target Audience

Screener questions are placed at the beginning of the survey to determine who completes the rest of the questions. Depending on their answers, some respondents may be screened out because they are outside the customer segment or audience you want to target. These questions are typically quick and easy and help make a difference when it is time to review the final data. Talking to the right audience is critical, and a mistargeted sample will hinder the credibility of the entire survey.

Tailor Your Questions to Gain Insights

Ensure each survey question yields answers that directly relate to your research goals. For instance, if what you’re looking for doesn’t require information about the respondent’s home state or age, don’t ask those questions. Stick to what is relevant and what will generate the data that you need and the desired outcome.

When employing standard question types like single-answer questions that require one unique response, ensure respondents have answer choices that are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive. Avoid confusing the respondent with answer choices that say the same thing and cover all possible scenarios so each respondent will have their own situation to choose from.

On multiple-answer questions that require at least one response but allow users to choose multiple, ensure there are no choices that force users to give a false answer. One way to accomplish this is by giving respondents a “none” or “don’t know” option. Without the “don’t know” option, a respondent may select a response they might not necessarily agree with, which leads to inaccurate data.

Keep Survey Questions Concise and Simple

Always simplify whenever possible. If you bog down your participants with long-winded questions or too many questions, it might decrease the quality of the data you collect. Survey questions should be easy to read and understand for respondents; avoid using language your target audience isn’t familiar with.

Simplifying your surveys saves time for the respondent and you. A simplified survey typically requires less time writing and editing the questionnaire and can speed up the data analysis after the survey closes.

Ask One Question at a Time

If the question has two parts, it is likely to measure two different things simultaneously– and if a respondent has a different answer for either, it can generate inaccurate results.

One way to keep an eye on this is to look out for survey questions that include the word “and.” For example, which product has the best customer service and additional perks? In this scenario, the respondent might feel that one has better customer service while the other has better additional perks. Unless there’s a way for the respondent to write in additional thoughts, they have no way of explaining this to the researcher.

Avoid Leading Questions

Leading questions are questions that inject an author’s opinion or bias into the survey, which can lead to inaccurate data. Anything that influences the respondent to offer an answer that isn’t indicative of their true experience can negatively impact the data.

Example: Did you have a positive or negative experience with our helpful customer service representative?

In this example, the survey question refers to the customer service representative as helpful. While it may seem minor, one word can nudge a respondent into answering the question a certain way. An impartial way to ask the same question would be to omit the word “helpful” so it simply reads, “did you have a positive or negative experience with our customer service representative?”

Implement Response Scales When Appropriate

Response scales can capture the intensity of attitudes toward a product, service, or experience. Scales offer survey authors an opportunity to capture rich data. True/False and Yes/No responses generally produce less informative data, while scales provide researchers with the entire picture. Avoid using scales that ask respondents to agree or disagree with statements, as some people are more inclined to agree if asked, which can produce inaccurate data.

Don't Make the Survey Too Long

If your survey is too long, respondents will probably disengage before completing it. Generally, if a survey takes more than 20 minutes to complete, respondents will likely suffer from survey fatigue, which can hurt data quality. Surveys that are short, sweet, and to the point will have higher completion rates and more thoughtful responses.

Another way to prevent survey fatigue is to mix up the question types on your survey. Surveys that take the full 20 minutes to complete benefit from diversifying each question’s delivery method. Long grids that go on forever can be cumbersome and make the survey feel longer than it is. Use a mixture of multiple-choice questions, matrix questions, star ratings, and more to keep participants engaged.

Consider Offering Incentives

A quick and easy way to obtain more responses to a survey is to offer incentives for completing them. Incentives include entering respondents into a raffle or drawing, giving them a gift card, or offering a discount on a service for participating. However, if you offer incentives, be sure you include thorough screener questions to prevent survey farms and other bad actors from infiltrating your survey data.

Review Your Survey Before Sending It Out

Always double-check your surveys before sending them out to avoid a potential disaster. No matter how straightforward you think the survey is, there is always something that could go wrong. Test your surveys thoroughly on multiple platforms to ensure readability and ease of use on all of them. Share your survey with a few people internally. If they can complete them without any errors or questions, it’s likely ready to go.

Get Help From the Pros

Nailing down all the details on a survey can be challenging and time-consuming. Thankfully, there are organizations like IntelliSurvey that can lend their expertise to the cause and help your organization get the data you need. 

IntelliSurvey’s experts can help to define your research objectives, qualify your target audience, provide design consultation on the questionnaire, and ensure you’re capturing the data you need. Our team can also operate on a smaller scope to review an existing draft and advise on any design considerations, structural or cosmetic changes, and methodologies to consider when incorporating survey writing best practices.

IntelliSurvey has a variety of products and services to help companies create effective surveys with performance trackers and advanced analytics. With help from IntelliSurvey, your organization can deploy more effective surveys to provide your business with the insights it needs.

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