How to write excellent survey questions?

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Learning to write survey questions is both an art and a science. The wording you choose can make the difference between accurate, useful data and the opposite. Fortunately, we have a number of tips to help you.
Figuring out how to do a good survey that produces useful information is all about sweating the details. Y writing effective questionnaire questions is the first step.
Understanding the different types of survey questions and how they work is essential to success. Each format requires a slightly different approach to question wording.
We also see common mistakes that prevent good survey ideas from being effective. These problems span several types of survey questions, from rating scale questions to open-ended and multiple-choice questions.
In this article, we will share how to write survey questionnaires and list some common mistakes to avoid so that you can improve your surveys and the data they provide.

Types of survey questions

Did you know that Qualtrics offers 23 types of questions you can use in your surveys ? Some are very popular and frequently used by a wide range of people, from students to market researchers, while others are more specialized and used to explore complex topics. Here's an introduction to some basic survey question formats and how to write them well.
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Multiple choice
Familiar to many, multiple choice questions ask the respondent to choose from a variety of options. You can set the question so that only one selection is possible or allow more than one to be checked.
When writing a multiple-choice question...
  • Be clear about whether the interviewer should choose one ("choose only one") or several ("select all that apply").
  • Think carefully about the options you offer, as these will shape your results data.
  • The phrase "of the following" can be useful in setting expectations. For example, if you ask "What is your favorite food?" and provide the options "hamburger and fries," "spaghetti and meatballs," it is very likely that your respondent's true favorite will not be included. If you add "of the following," the question makes more sense.
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Rank order
Asking participants to rank things in order, either by order of preference, frequency, or perceived value, is done using a ranking structure. There can be a variety of interfaces, including drag-and-drop, radio buttons, text boxes, and more.
When writing a sort order question....
  • Explain how the interface works and what the respondent must do to indicate their choice. For example, "drag and drop the items in this list to show your order of preference".
  • Be clear about which end of the scale is which. For example, "With the best at the top, rank these items from best to worst."
  • Be as specific as possible about how the respondent should consider the options and how to rank them. For example, "thinking about viewing in the last 3 months, rank these TV streaming services in order of quality, starting with the best."
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Slider
Sliding structures ask the respondent to move a pointer or button along a scale, usually numerical, to indicate their responses.
When writing a sliding question...
  • Consider whether the question format will be intuitive for your respondents and whether you should add help text such as "click / tap and drag on the bar to select your answer".
  • Qualtrics includes the option of an open field where your respondent can type in their answer instead of using a slider. If you offer this, be sure to reference it in the survey question so the respondent understands its purpose.
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Text input

Also known as an open-ended question, this format allows respondents to answer in their own words by typing in the comment box.

When writing a text entry question ...

  • Use open-ended question structures such as "How do you feel about..." "If you said x, why?" or "What makes a good x?"
  • Open-ended questions require more effort to answer, so use this type of question sparingly.
  • Be as clear and specific as possible in the way you ask the question. Provide as much context as you can to facilitate the answer. For example, instead of "How is our customer service?", write "Thinking about your experience with us today, in what areas could we improve?"
Matrix table
Matrix structures allow you to address several issues using the same rating system, e.g., a Likert scale (Very satisfied / satisfied / neither satisfied nor dissatisfied / dissatisfied / very dissatisfied).
When writing a matrix table question...
  • Make sure that the topics are clearly differentiated from each other, so that participants do not get confused with similar questions placed side by side and answer the wrong one.
  • Keep the text brief and focused. A matrix already includes a lot of information, so make it easy for the interviewer by using simple language and short, clear sentences in the matrix text.
  • Add details to the static introductory text if necessary to help keep the labels brief. For example, if your introductory text reads "At the Philadelphia store, how satisfied were you with the...?", You can make the subject labels very brief, e.g., "staff friendliness," "signage," "price tagging," etc.
Focus on creating clear questions and having an understandable, appropriate, and complete set of answer options. Great questions and excellent response options lead to great research success. For more information on survey question design, download our e-book, the Qualtrics Question Design Manual or get started with a free free survey account with our world-class survey software. world-class survey software.

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