9 Tips to Help You Write and Program Better Surveys

If you’re involved with writing and/or programming surveys, you know how difficult it can be to create a seemingly simple set of questions that will result in the insights you need from your research.
Survey authoring tools can make it “point-and-click simple” to assemble your survey and choose your desired audience, but you still have to write questions in such a way as to fairly and accurately gather the insights you need, and organize those questions into a coherent, neutral survey.
If you include poorly-worded or unclear questions in a confusing or overly-long survey, you can suppress response rates or, far worse, elicit misleading or inaccurate answers. This in turn can skew your survey results and start a cascade of less-than-optimal decisions and actions which could wind up costing your organization real money and lost opportunities.
This is why career researchers spend years sharpening their question-writing and survey design
skills. Here are some tips to consider when you’re writing your next survey:

  • Use straightforward language: Complicated language or industry-specific jargon could potentially confuse or intimidate your target audience. Aim to use clear and precise language when you communicate.
  • Simplify mathematical representations: Knowledge of probability and statistics vary across target populations. Keep mathematical references uncomplicated. Consider using simple number games to replace percentage allocation questions. Let your data processor or spreadsheet take care of reconciling figures!
  • Keep it neutral: The human desire for acceptance can create situations where we might not be 100% honest about our views. Keep in mind that participants are biased toward answering “yes or no” questions with an affirmative response, so avoid them in favor or a list of options to choose from.

A single bad experience with a poorly-designed survey isn’t likely to drive away a participant, but the cumulative effect of many bad experiences could. When writing and programming questionnaires, look out for the community of participants that has assembled to provide you with the valuable data that you require for your projects.