How To Write A Survey
When it comes to gathering responses from different audience groups to help ascertain their thoughts, feelings and opinions, there’s nothing better than a survey.
Simple to administer, flexible and effective for gathering information on a wide range of topics, surveys can enable you to quickly collect and analyse data from a large number of respondents and help drive better decision making and actions.
However, a good survey needs to be designed and crafted in the right way, if you’re to provide respondents with a quick and easy survey-taking experience, as well as questions that enable them to answer truthfully. And this is a skill that can take time to develop.
However, to help move you forward more quickly on this, we’ve outlined some guidance for you below.
Structuring your survey
The first thing to consider when you’re planning your survey is its structure and format.
From your initial survey title and introduction to your choice of questions and how you decide to conclude and end your survey. The structure of your survey is essential to how interesting and engaging you can make it, as well as helping to break it up so it’s easier for respondents to read and digest. It’s therefore essential to give sufficient care and attention to each stage, so it’s compelling for respondents to read and it will ensure you maintain their attention so that they go on to complete it.
Here are some key areas to think about:
Your survey introduction
One of the most important aspects of a good survey is the introduction because it helps set the tone for the rest of the survey, as well as helping to build trust with the respondent.
To get respondent buy-in, your introduction should outline your objectives and purpose for running the survey, as well as how you will use the data you collect and keep their data confidential. In addition, it can also help at this stage to give respondents an idea of how long it will take to complete your survey.
For more detailed guidance about how to create the ideal introduction you might like to take a look at our Survey Introduction page.
Having grabbed your respondents’ attention with an enticing survey title and introduction, you’ll want to ensure that they progress to the end of your survey. So, your survey needs to be structured with the right type of questions to meet the purpose of your survey and the audience that needs to answer them.
From open-ended to closed-ended questions and the many variations of this question type that exist including multiple-choice, matrix, ranking, slider, Likert questions and more. Your choice of question will also depend on whether you’re looking to gather quantitative or qualitative data, as well as the demographics of the audience group you’re trying to reach out to and the type of device they’re most likely to complete your survey on.
For example, open-ended questions are particularly popular in market research, where more qualitative data is often required, such as trying to find out more about why a customer uses their product and the wider pain points they’re trying to resolve. Or on the other hand quantitative questions, when they’re more interested in hard facts such as understanding how many of something there is, or how frequent a particular occurrence might be.
Similarly, you’ll have to think more carefully about your question choice depending on the demographic of the audience you’re reaching out to and the device they’re using.
Let’s say the majority of your audience are smartphone users. Despite most online survey software being optimised for mobile use, your respondents would struggle if they were expected to answer open-ended questions that require a lot of typing. Matrix questions would also pose a problem, as they’re typically very large and packed with content, which would be very hard to read and interact with on a single smartphone screen.
Consequently, you’d be better off designing your survey with multiple choice questions, where you presented a single question at a time to the respondent’s device screen, so it was easier for them to digest and complete.
While it’s important to have a strong introduction and for the body of your survey to be interesting and engaging, it’s also important for respondents to leave your survey on a positive note, which is where your conclusion comes in.
Thank you message
Given that respondents have given up their time and insights to help you, it’s only right that you should include a ‘thank you message’, that pops up after they’ve completed your survey and pressed submit.
The good thing about this message is that besides thanking them for their time and their thoughts, it also offers the opportunity to pass on further important information to them or a way of encouraging them to take further next step actions with you. This includes asking them to help you with another survey in the future or letting them know when you plan to publish your survey report findings and your action plan of how you will use their feedback.
To discover many more reasons why creating a ‘thank you’ page for your survey can benefit you, why not take a look at our ‘Survey Thank You Message’ blog.
In your conclusion, besides thanking those who’ve taken your survey, you’ll want to track the number of people who left your survey early.
By including an exit url, not only will you be able to measure the number of people who’ve not completed your survey, but you’ll be able to redirect those that complete your survey to another page too. This could include anything from the homepage on your website to some other content on your website which is related to what they’ve just been answering, offering you a further opportunity to engage, communicate and sell to them.
Setting up a survey completion redirect, is pretty straightforward with survey software such as our own. Simply, tick the checkbox to activate the automatic redirect function and add the address in the URL box you want it to redirect to.
Top tips for an effective questionnaire
Your questionnaire is the part of your survey concerned with the questions you give to respondents. And it’s important to get right, as the questions you ask can impact the quality of data that you’re able to get back from your target audience.
Here are some useful points to think about:
Consider questionnaire length
While you may think getting as many questions into your questionnaire as possible is an efficient way of getting back lots of quality data, if it’s too long you risk frustrating the respondent. This could either lead to them speeding through your questionnaire or abandoning it altogether which could harm the accuracy of your data results.
To avoid respondent frustration or fatigue, you’d be much better off making your questionnaire as short as you can. Ideally, it shouldn’t take more than five to ten minutes for them to complete.
Order questions logically
The order in which you ask your questions is important too.
As you’ll typically need to cover off a range of issues, your questionnaire should be grouped by topic with your questions unfolding in a logical order.
Consider starting with some simple questions that respondents will find interesting and engaging, to help build a rapport and motivate them, before you start introducing more complex questions. And if you need to include demographic questions, these should be placed towards the end of your questionnaire, unless they’re needed to qualify the suitability of each respondent for taking your survey.
Write for your audience
It might sound obvious, but when you’re writing your questions, you’ll want them to be as clear, understandable and relatable as possible to the particular audience that needs to answer them.
So, whether it’s a niche professional business group or a more generic consumer audience, you need to be writing in a language that’s most familiar and comfortable for them. That includes using any terminology that the particular group you’re addressing would expect to see.
Similarly, audience groups will typically have different reading age abilities. So, if you’re targeting a professional business group, generally speaking they’re more likely to have a higher-level reading age compared to a more generic group such as a general consumer audience. For the latter group, you’re more likely to have to write for a wider range of reading age abilities, that’s why some many organisations suggest that surveys targeting a more generic audience should pitch questions around the 5th or 6th grade reading level.
More help with assessing the grade level of your text can found through online tools such as the Fleischmann readability range and the Hemmingway app.
Make it accessible
When we think about audience groups and the different demographics that may be present within them, we also need to think about accessibility issues. And it’s not just older people, many younger demographic groups have accessibility issues too, with those struggling with visual impairments finding it particularly challenging to complete online surveys.
When you consider that The RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) estimates that there are more than 2 million people in the UK with a significant degree of sight loss and a much higher number with mild sight loss, then making your survey accessible is essential.
Whether it’s problems with light sensitivity or colour contrast, content depth and more, there’s lots you need to take account of if you’re to make your survey accessible for those suffering with visual impairments.
Fortunately, with our survey software it’s simple for our own customers to create an accessible survey using our WCAG compliant accessible survey theme. This can be easily used with a custom survey or one of our survey templates, and is also fully compatible with high contrast mode.
Test the survey
Once you’ve made all the necessary tweaks to your questionnaire and incorporated all the best practice tips that you need to, you’re ready to test it.
Before issuing your survey for real, testing it with a sample of potential respondents is a great way to check that your survey is understandable, your questions are rendering correctly and any survey logic you may have added is working fine.
This pre-test is potentially one of the most critical steps in administering your survey, as it’s your last chance to check that everything’s working fine and make any final tweaks.
For more detail about what to do that this crucial final stage, why not take a look at our ‘Survey Testing’ page.
Survey do’s and don’ts
No matter how many surveys you may have run before, it helps to have a handy checklist to refer to, when you're thinking about your next survey and questionnaire.
So, to help you to recap on the points we’ve discussed along with a few additional pointers, here’s a handy list of ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ to consider for your next survey:
- Do include a survey introduction: this should provide respondents with a clear outline of your goals and purpose for running your survey, as well as how you will use respondent data and keep it confidential.
- Do use the right question types for your survey: from open-ended to closed-ended questions and the many variations in-between. Be careful to select the right question type to best meet your survey’s purpose and help those answering your questionnaire.
- Do order your questions logically: ordering your questions by topic and then putting some easier ones at the beginning, before introducing more complex questions, should help to engage respondents and get more of them to complete your survey.
- Do try to keep a balanced set of answer options: a good survey relies on maintaining an objective rather than subjective tone. For example, if your answer options include; ‘Very helpful’, ‘somewhat helpful’, ‘helpful’, you also need to ensure you include ‘somewhat unhelpful’, ‘unhelpful’, ‘very unhelpful’ options too.
- Do write for your audience at all times: while clarity is crucial, if you’re to maximise the effectiveness of your questions, you need to ensure you’re writing them with the language and tone that appeals to your audience.
- Do always try to include a ‘thank you’ message: if people have taken the time to take your survey, it’s only polite to thank them for this. But not only this, it will also make it easier for you to take further next step actions with them.
- Do keep everything short and concise: if you’re to avoid survey fatigue and encourage as many respondents as possible to complete it, you should only include the most essential questions, that way you can keep it shorter and more engaging.
- Do make your survey accessible: making your survey accessible, is the only way to ensure that everyone that wants to take your survey can do so, irrespective of any visual impairment they may be suffering from. So, you need to be working with survey tools that will allow this.
- Do always test your survey: remember, if you’re to give your survey the best chance of success, you need to test it before you issue it for real. It’s important, because without this you won’t be able to correct anything that’s not working as it should be or make any essential final tweaks.
- Don’t include too many open-ended questions: given that they take more time to answer and complete, try not to use too many open-ended questions. If you do need to use some of them, think about placing them towards the end of your survey, or making them optional. For example, in the format of ‘any other comments’.
- Don’t use words that have unclear meanings: essentially, avoid using phrases that can be left to interpretation of have multiple meanings.
- Don’t use leading questions: Keep your survey questions neutral. If you inadvertently put an opinion into your questions, it could influence respondents to answer in a way that doesn’t reflect how they really feel.
- Don’t use double barrelled questions: this occurs when you’re trying to ask two things at once in a single question, which can be really confusing for the respondent. For example, ‘Which cereal do you think is the healthiest and most delicious?
- Don’t collect unnecessary personal data: unless you really need it as a basis for informing your decisions, it’s best to avoid asking respondents for their personal data in your survey. In fact, given peoples’ nervousness about providing their personal data, if you can make your survey anonymous it will actually encourage more people to take it.
As you can see, when it comes to writing your survey there’s a lot to think about.
That’s why when you’re choosing a survey software provider, besides the quality of their survey tools, you’ll want an organisation that can offer you great support, not only in terms of their personnel but the resources they make available to help you.
That’s why we have a dedicated library of resources and help guides to help our own customers. From our articles, blogs, ebooks, case studies, product know how, and help pages to our webinar material, survey templates and handy calculator tools. We look to give our customers as much help as we can to get started with their surveys and keep these projects moving forward, so they can get the maximum value from their surveys now and in the future.