Tips For Creating More Inclusive Surveys

Philip Cleave
May 1, 2024
Picture depicting the importance of allowing for inclusion and diversity in all of your surveys

While inclusion is an essential part of nurturing a more diverse workplace and addressing endemic inequalities in many industries, it’s also vital to building stronger, more representative surveys.

So, why does this matter?

Well, when you prioritise inclusiveness in your surveys, you demonstrate respect for all individuals and their identities, experiences and backgrounds. By creating inclusive surveys and questions, you’ll also demonstrate consideration for a broader range of perspectives that ensures your survey results are more representative of the population you’re studying.

Inclusive surveys help to minimise bias by ensuring that questions and response options do not favour or marginalise any particular group, which promotes greater fairness and objectivity in data collection. And given that inclusive survey questions can help capture the nuances of different experiences and perspectives, this will help to ensure your data is richer and more insightful as a result.

Considering the many advantages to making your surveys more inclusive, how do you go about this?

While there isn’t a set formula for this, but here are some good pointers to bear in mind.

Take care with demographic questions

Demographic questions are focused on finding out the background characteristics of your respondents, including things like age, gender, sexual orientation, and race.

While these questions help give you a clearer understanding of your audience, digging into identities related to diversity, equity and inclusion can feel quite personal. However, this doesn’t mean you should avoid using these questions, but rather it should prompt you ask why you’re asking them and how you plan to use the data. With greater clarity about this, it should help you to create better, more intentional questions.

For instance, let’s say you wanted to include the following demographic question, similar to that covered in the most recent census:

Do you personally identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual?

While this will give you an overall estimate of LGB individuals, it won’t take into account those who identify as transgender or any other groups. To understand your respondents’ identities with this level of specificity, you would need to approach your question in a more inclusive way.

Irrespective of whether you’re asking a gender, racial or religious related question, there’s always a risk that your respondents won’t identify with any of the answer options you’ve provided. So, one way to avoid this and ensure inclusive demographic questions would be to include a blank box option, where they could write in their own answer. Not only will this allow them to be heard, but it may also give you ideas for future answer options you should include.

Be clear about why you're asking demographic questions

While the majority of your respondents will be happy to answer demographic questions, others may feel less comfortable sharing this information, unless you can provide more assurances about why you’re asking them and how their data will be used.

You can provide more context for this by including a survey introduction that outlines your survey’s topic and purpose. For example, a book shop asking survey respondents about their race or religion may receive more responses if they indicate that the data will be used to stock merchandise or plan community events that are more relevant to its customers.

Don’t make all survey questions mandatory

When it comes to taking a survey, nobody likes being forced to answer a question they feel uncomfortable with. In fact, this can cause some people to abandon your survey altogether. And if a lot of people were to quit, not only would you end up with less data, but that data’s more likely to be homogeneous and less valuable as a result.

So, instead of expecting your respondent to answer all your questions, give them the freedom to skip some questions. By doing this, not only will you respect their boundaries, but you’ll also be more likely to keep them engaged and reduce the likelihood of survey fatigue among respondents.

Employ skip logic

Think about employing skip logic, to make your surveys are smarter and enable respondents to skip over questions they can’t or don’t want to answer, so they continue with your survey.

Skip logic guides respondents to different questions based on their previous answers. This ensures they get a more personalised survey experience, where they only see questions that apply to them, which is especially helpful when you’re trying to build more inclusive surveys.

For example, let's say a survey asked a respondent for their views on religion and that respondent selects ‘atheist’. If that respondent was then asked how many times they attend church, they may feel as though their answer hasn’t been heard or valued and decide to quit your survey altogether.

Fortunately, if you’re using skip logic, you can tailor their survey experience and make sure that they feel their time and their answers are valued. In addition, this feature will help you gain a better understanding of respondents’ backgrounds and experiences, so you can build better surveys in the future based on those insights.

Use inclusive language

Language is a very powerful thing, and without careful thought everyday words and phrasing can inadvertently exclude, offend or marginalise certain people or groups.

If you’re to avoid this in your surveys, you need to include more inclusive language in your surveys. Essentially, this is language that acknowledges diversity, conveys respect to all people and promote equal opportunities.

Here are a few examples of how to put some of these ideas into practice.

Example one:

If you’re asking a question about race or ethnic groups, it’s not always as straightforward as it might seem. This is because many people identify with multiple races or ethnicities. So, in this instance it would be prudent to include an option such as ‘Select all that apply’.

Example two:

If you want to ask a question about sexual orientation (straight, gay, bisexual), do not include “gender identity.” This is because transgender and non-binary are not considered “orientations,” but are more about how someone identifies themselves, and therefore should be in the “gender” category.

Now, instead of simply asking “What is your gender?” you want to consider asking “What is your gender or gender identity?”

It’s also important to include options beyond just “male” and “female” like “non-binary,” “prefer not to say,” or an open text field.

Example three:

Tackling questions around disability or accessibility can be tricky too.

For example, don’t assume a disabled person considers themselves disabled. Instead, a carefully worded question similar to the following would work better:

Do you identify as a person with a disability or an individual with accessibility needs?

Build your survey with accessibility in mind

If you’re to make your survey as inclusive as possible, you also need to ensure it’s as accessible as you can make it.

There are a lot of simple, but effective things you can do to make your surveys more accessible to a wider range of people.

Firstly, you can write for accessibility by making your survey questions clear and concise. And if there is information that respondents only get from looking at an image, try to include context in the text of your question.

When it comes to your survey design, try customising it with colours and design features that ensure your colour contrasts are readable and the overall design is as inclusive as possible.

However, for a simpler way of ensuring survey accessibility, you could always try our accessible survey theme.  With a host of accessible features, it will support you with creating WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) compliant surveys. For more information about how accessible our survey software is, feel free to take a look at our about accessible surveys page.

Monitor your survey responses and allow feedback

Finally, it’s important to regularly review your survey data to identify potential survey response bias or any underrepresentation of certain groups, so that you can make any necessary adjustments. Only by doing this will you get a true representation of your survey audience.

You should also consider including a way for respondents to provide feedback about your survey’s inclusivity and suggest improvements, as their input and ideas could make your next survey so much better.

Final thoughts

We hope you enjoyed reading this blog. And if you weren’t already familiar with them, you found some tips that you can include to make your next survey more inclusive.

Bear in mind, as the wider society continues to grow and evolve, there’s always something new to learn when it comes to issues around inclusion. But it’s well worth it, because if you can keep on top of this, your survey response rate and the quality of your data will be better as a result.

Don’t forget to use the right survey tools too

While the right advice can help you to create more inclusive surveys, it’s important not to forget about the performance of the survey software you’re using too. This is because if you're already using survey software that incorporate tools that make creating inclusive surveys easier in areas including survey design, distribution, data analysis, accessibility and more, your job will be that much simpler.

Find out more