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Writing good survey questions

Get reliable results and actionable insights from your surveys

If you take the time to write good survey questions, you’ll be well on your way to getting the reliable responses you need to reach your goals.

The first choice you have to make is the type of question to use. We offer both open-ended questions that ask respondents to add personal comments, as well as closed-ended questions that give respondents a fixed set of options to choose from. These closed-ended response choices can be simple yes/no options, multiple choice options, Likert rating scales, and more.

But the decisions don’t end there! You’ll also have to decide how to ask your questions. Check out our tips for writing great survey questions below. Once you’ve read through these, you’ll be writing survey questions like a pro in no time!

7 tips for writing a great survey

1. Focus on asking closed-ended questions

Open-ended questions (also known as free-response questions) require more effort and time to answer. As a result, asking too many of them can lead respondents to leave your survey sooner than if they were asked closed-ended questions instead.

Try to ask no more than 2 open-ended questions per survey, and if possible, put them on a separate page at the end. That way, even if a respondent drops out of the survey, you’re able to collect their responses from the questions on previous pages.

2. Keep your survey questions neutral

Putting an opinion in your question prompt (or asking a “leading question”) can influence respondents to answer in a way that doesn’t reflect how they really feel.

Say you asked the leading question:

“We think our customer service representatives are really awesome. How awesome do you think they are?” 

The question seems to convey an opinion that you want respondents to agree with. You can make the tone objective by editing it as follows:

“How helpful or unhelpful do you find our customer service representatives to be?”

3. Keep a balanced set of answer choices

Along the lines of our last point, respondents need a way to provide honest and thoughtful feedback. Otherwise, the credibility of their responses is at risk.

The answer choices you include can be another potential source of bias. Let’s assume we included the following as answer options when asking respondents how helpful or unhelpful your customer service reps are:

  1. Extremely helpful
  2. Very helpful
  3. Helpful

You’ll notice that there isn’t an opportunity for respondents to say that the reps aren’t helpful. Again, we need to make the tone objective, but this time by adding a more balanced set of answer options:

  1. Very helpful
  2. Helpful
  3. Neither helpful nor unhelpful
  4. Unhelpful
  5. Very unhelpful

4. Don’t ask for two things at once

Confusing respondents is equally as bad as influencing their answers. In both cases, they’ll choose an answer that doesn’t reflect their true opinions and preferences.

A common culprit in causing confusion is the “double-barreled” question. It asks respondents to assess two different things at the same time. For example:

“How would you rate our customer service and product reliability?”

Customer service and product reliability are two separate topics. Including both in the same question can push the respondent to either evaluate one or to skip the question altogether.

Fortunately, there’s an easy fix here. Simply separate these two topics into their own closed-ended questions:

“How would you rate our customer service?”

And…

“How would you rate our product’s reliability?”

5. Keep your questions different from each other

Imagine if someone asked you the same question over, and over, and over again.

You’d probably get annoyed, right?

That’s how respondents may feel if you repeatedly ask questions that use the same question prompt or answer choices. It leads respondents to either leave your survey or, equally as bad, engage in “straightlining”—answering your questions without putting much thought into them.

You can proactively address this by varying the types of questions you ask, how you ask them, and by spacing out questions that look similar.

6. Let most of your questions be optional to answer

Respondents may not know the answers to all of your questions. And there may be some questions they simply don’t feel comfortable answering.

Keep both of these things in mind when deciding which questions to require answers to. And when you’re unsure whether to make a certain question optional or required, lean on making it optional. We’ve found that forcing respondents to answer your questions make them more likely to quit your survey or select an answer at random.

7. Do a test drive

As a survey creator, there’s no worse feeling than finding mistakes in your survey once it’s already sent.

Prevent the situation from happening to you by sharing your survey with colleagues, friends, and others, in advance. A pair of fresh eyes can be all it takes to spot mistakes in your survey.

Writing a good survey means asking questions in a way that lets respondents answer truthfully. At the same time, it means providing respondents with a quick and easy survey-taking experience.

The better your surveys get, the better your responses become. So apply these best practices when writing your questionnaire today!

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