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How to write survey questions that will get you the exact answers you are looking for!

Mathew Maniyamkott

Mathew Maniyamkott

10 min read

Asking questions that elicit honest answers is a tough thing to do, especially from customers who don’t want to answer unsolicited emails. No one likes being asked questions, giving a 5 on 5 for every question might seem the easiest way to finish a survey, for a customer. But a survey filled like that would be something that doesn’t serve the purpose at all for a business that wants to flash a torchlight into the minds of its customers.
Writing down a bunch of questions with a flashy survey tool will not necessarily do your job of sending out effective surveys. There is a method to the madness if you are looking to get highly insightful responses.
As a company with a stellar product and a flourishing business, there are chances you might get a little complacent that makes you less prepared when asking questions. Do not fret, here are our top 15 tips for asking persuasive questions whose answers will help nail your marketing strategy, improve your business process, and better your product.

Tip #1 on how to write survey questions

Word your questions in a simple language

Remember that the number one priority for your customer even while responding to your survey is not filling it. Why? Because, according to them, there are a million other things they could be doing, but they look at it is a favor they are doing for your business. Make sure the questions are written in simple language that is easy to understand on the initial read itself.
Trying to outsmart your customer with a suave language will only induce cringe. Your customers would not want to look as if they lack intelligence. Think of the simplest way something could be asked and draft the question. You are not here to intimidate anyone unless you are asking questions to people in a MENSA club. Are you? No? Then use simple language.

Think of the simplest way something could be asked and draft the question.

Tip #2 on how to write survey questions

Do not use jargons

The fact that we have listed down ‘not using jargons’ as one of the tips is because many companies are guilty of doing it while sending survey questions. It does not help your case at all. If you imagine that the respondents are going to take the time to Google and see what the jargon stands for, then you are living in a bubble.
No one does that.
Your employees and investors might. Don’t expect your customers to do that for you.
If you think introducing a jargon will make the question brief, then get rid of that thought. The respondent will be happier going through a long question that is easy to understand than a short one that doesn’t make any sense to them? Jargons are for the experts.

Tip #3 on how to write survey questions

Give them the ‘Not Applicable’ option

Imagine one of the questions is “How was your experience with Product 2”, but the respondent has not used Product 2 ever. Let’s assume this is a multiple-choice question and you have not given the option for someone who has never used the product to respond that they haven’t used it. They would be searching for an option that says- “Not Applicable” or “Never used it.” But when they search for a few seconds only to finally realize that there is no way to answer, what do you think they are going to do? They will close the survey. A small discomfort is enough for them to walk out on your survey. Don’t be that business which doesn’t think about all kinds of perspectives before setting questions for a survey.

Tip #4 on how to write survey questions

Ask neutral questions

Most businesses are guilty of leading their customers into answering the way they want the results reflected. It is nothing short of cheating yourself because you are not looking for ways to increase the satisfaction score, but because you want to find out ways to serve your customers better. Brutal honesty from your customers would be the best bet to raise your standards to keep them with you and attract newer customers.
How exactly do businesses influence their customers into answering the way they like? It depends on the way questions are framed. Here are two questions that ask for the same thing, but the way the question is worded will influence the respondent’s answer.
“We have been giving you the best service possible. How would you rate us on a scale of 1 to 10?”
And
“On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rate our service?”
Can you see the startling difference between the two questions?
The first question is trying to put you in a frame of mind where you are told that the business is giving you good service. By whom? By the business themselves. While some might not notice the notoriety in the wordplay, the respondents who do notice it will be put off by it.

Brutal honesty from your customers would be the best bet to raise your standards to keep them with you and attract newer customers.

Tip #5 on how to write survey questions

Provide credible answer choices

Continuing with our last point, to seem credible, you need to give the options for your customers, aka respondents, to provide honest feedback. This should reflect in the answer choices you provide. What exactly are we talking about?
If you were to ask your customers how satisfied they are working with you; then the answer choices shouldn’t be like the one below:

  • Extremely satisfied
  • Satisfied
  • Very satisfied

If a customer was dissatisfied with your offerings, there is no way to express the same in the above answer choices. Here is how you could solve this conundrum:

  • Extremely satisfied
  • Satisfied
  • Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied
  • Dissatisfied
  • Extremely dissatisfied

Here, the customer has the option to rate your service based on their level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. It is your duty as the business that is asking questions to be as neutral and objective as possible. It is better to own up to your mistakes, apologize, and rectify it rather than trying to cover them up with an absurd set of questions.

Tip #6 on how to write survey questions

Ask specific questions

Do not mind if asking a highly specific question increases the length of it, but it is all right if the respondents are better suited to answer it.

People are different, and their understanding of things is based on a bunch of stuff that includes their life experiences, perspectives, and so on. So when you ask a question, make sure it is as specific as possible so that it doesn’t elicit any confusion. Specific questions also give you objective answers. Do not mind if asking a highly specific question increases the length of it, but it is all right if the respondents are better suited to answer it.
The clearer the question, higher are the chances that your customers respond. A specific question will always bring out such an answer. Another pro tip that we would like to add is to ask and not assume. When you assume that your customer already knows something, it is highly plausible that you end up asking questions that the respondent might find confusing or even answer incorrectly.

Tip #7 on how to write survey questions

Do not ask unnecessary questions

There is always the inkling to ask one more question, even though it might not necessarily help achieve the objective of the survey. Also, adding an unnecessary question might put off the respondent as they might see it as a waste of time and assume that the entire survey would be an exercise in futility.
When you are preparing questions for a survey, make sure you are clear about the objective(s) — walking through each of the questions with other stakeholders ensure that not a single question among the lot is unnecessary.
Here are some questions to ponder over when drafting questions:
Does it add value to the survey?
Would the question be relevant in this survey campaign?
Would the deletion of this question derail the effectiveness of the survey?
The 3 simple questions above make a world of difference in the survey when drafting questions.

Tip #8 on how to write survey questions

Avoid Double-barrelled questions

For the unaware, a double-barrelled question is when someone asks a question that brings more than one issue to your attention. It is a problematic way to ask questions because there is no way a respondent can have a similar response to two different topics. Also, it is too complex to draft an answer choice while confusing the responder to no end.
Let us give you an example which will help you understand what a double-barrelled question is:
“How easy was it to navigate our website to find product X and product Y?”
If the respondent had a smooth navigation experience with product X but not with product Y, how do you expect them to respond? How do you save confusion such as this? Simple. Draft two separate questions like below:
“How easy was it to navigate our website to find product X?”
“How easy was it to navigate our website to find product Y?”

Tip #9 on how to write survey questions

Allow questions that are optional

It is a given that some of your customers might come across questions that they do not want to answer. Give them the leeway to ignore the question. Also, if you are confused between making a question mandatory and keeping them optional, then always choose the latter. The fact that you hesitate shows that the question might not necessarily be mandatory for everyone involved.
When you force a respondent to respond to all questions, there are chances that they might not like it and ignore the rest of the survey by answering them rapidly without a thought.

Tip #10 on how to write survey questions

Use different types of answer choices

As a business which is raring to conduct a survey to better its prospects, you need to put yourself in the shoes of your respondents. When you do that, you would realize that one aspect where you can give them an improved experience while taking the survey is to provide them with a set of choices when it comes to the response. This will not only make the respondents expect something different from each question and reduce their fatigue, but it will also help you get deeper insights based on the myriad of answer choices.
Here are some of the popular answer choices:
Survey questions with a Yes/No type answer
Multiple-choice questions
Open-ended survey question
Matrix Table questions
Visual Analog scale question
Net Promoter Score question
Likert Scale
Rating Scale
These are some of the answer choices that you can provide to the respondent. Such a variety of answer choices keeps them on their toes and makes them occupied.

Tip #11 on how to write survey questions

Don’t ask loaded questions

Forcing respondents to choose an answer that might not necessarily reflect their opinion is a terrible way to conduct a survey. Let us give you an example that rightly carries this sentiment:
“Where do you watch football, usually?”
What’s so terrible about this question, you ask? The respondent might not be a fan of Football at all. If you include such a question, then you should also give them the provision to respond with, “I don’t watch Football.”
You get the drift, right?

Forcing respondents to choose an answer that might not necessarily reflect their opinion is a terrible way to conduct a survey.

When you phrase the question in the above way, it will look as if you are trying to push the results in a specific direction. If an agency that is handling marketing for a football-themed bar is asking these questions, it might look like they are trying to inflate the number of people who watch Football to sell a wrong figure to the owner of the bar.

Tip #12 on how to write survey questions

Concentrate on the order of questions

Asking a bunch of questions randomly without a thought in the expectation of well-crafted answers might be a bit too much to expect. Here is how you should order your questions- make it look like a funnel. Start with general questions that warm up the respondent to the survey. After you have crossed a few questions, the next step is to ask highly specific questions along with a bunch that is easy to answer.

Tip #13 on how to write survey questions

Use long questions wisely

Well, we have been a vociferous campaigner of asking short questions. We are still sticking with that principle, but if you think that a long question makes more sense to include in the survey, then do not hesitate. But ensure that you make do with just 2-3 questions that are long. Also, do not have the long questions following each other- it will turn off respondents, including your biggest brand advocates.
When you increase the number of questions and the length of them, you are putting yourself at risk. A risk that you are better off not taking. But if a situation warrants where you need a lengthy question to put your point across effectively, it is not a wrong choice.

Tip #14 on how to write survey questions

Inconsistent rating scales

Stick to a method of using the scale in such a way that you are consistent always, even in the newer surveys that you would be sending.

There are a lot of questions that you ask in a survey, which means some of these questions needs to be answered in the form of scales. It is easy to overlook the inconsistencies in the rating level. If you were to use a 1 to 10 scale, ensure that you follow it everywhere. Following up your 1 to 10 scale with a 1 to 6 scale will confuse even the seasoned survey users.
Also, using a 10 to 1 scale which goes from left to right is not well-advised either. Stick to a method of using the scale in such a way that you are consistent always, even in the newer surveys that you would be sending. It eliminates a lot of confusion and ensures a smooth experience for the respondent.

Tip #15 on how to write survey questions

Demographic questions and its bane

Demographic questions are the ones that usually ask for a customer’s name, address, email ID, phone number, designation, and more details. Why does it irk a customer? Because most of the existing customers will assume that you already have the information with you and will think of it as an exercise in futility and a wastage of time.
The effectiveness of your survey is in the questions you ask.
Find ways to populate these details as soon as you send them a survey so that they don’t end up answering these repetitive questions. You will undoubtedly increase your response rate as well as drastically reduce the drop off rate.

Conclusion

Today’s technology allows you to craft terrific surveys with stunning visuals that pique the interest of the respondent and keeps them engaged. While you have the resources and technical help to send out surveys, the onus is on the business to prepare questions that make sense to the respondent while adding value to your business.
Please do remember that the effectiveness of your survey is in the questions you ask. Focus on creating clear and concise questions with a bunch of answer choices that are relevant to the question.
Here is a pro-tip that will surely help. Before sending the survey to your customers, test it out with a different set of people in your organization. It will help you weed out unclear questions, wrong answer choices, typos, and bad grammar. You will also hear other comments that will polish your survey making it more effective.
If you are looking to create high-quality surveys that will help you achieve your business goals, look no further than SurveySparrow. Our conversational interface helps in creating surveys that stand out, while the drag and drop features make it easy to send surveys and assess the customer’s responses.

Mathew Maniyamkott
Mathew Maniyamkott

Guest Blogger at SurveySparrow

Regular contributor to various magazines. Passionate about entrepreneurship, startups, marketing, and productivity.

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