Surveys 101: A Guide to Asking Effective Questions

Published May 25, 2021

Toluna Corporate

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Surveys are an integral part of tackling consumer research. With surveys, a business can quickly collect data from a sample of their market with questions like:

  • Do you buy products from a store or online?
  • How often do you shop online? 
  • How long have you used this product?  

Individuals and business owners underestimate the questions asked in a survey. Most think they’re simple to come up with and deploy, but that’s rarely the case. The phrasing of a question or asking the wrong questions can dramatically alter the response and lead users to mistakenly select an incorrect response. 

That’s why taking the time and investing in a survey design is crucial to obtaining quality responses. Here are some helpful tips for creating an effective survey, starting with the structure. 

An Overview On How To Conduct A Proper Survey- Survey Structure

The best way to ensure a positive respondent experience and high-quality insights is to create a survey that walks the respondent through a logical scenario. At Toluna, the general survey overview would look something like this:

  • Screening questions 
    • Ask targeted questions to determine if respondents are the ideal demographic sample and are eligible to participate in the study.
  • The body of the survey
    • After passing the screening section, create questions that follow a logical flow based on your respondents. Before giving the questions to respondents, test the survey questions yourself to identify any inconsistencies in the survey-taking experience. After passing the screening section, create questions that lead the respondents to provide reasoning behind their answers. 
  • Survey close
    • Express gratitude to the respondents for taking the time to provide insights on the subject.

The Screener

Screening questions (also known as “the screener”) qualifies or disqualifies respondents from taking the survey. Depending on how they answer the questions, you will decide whether they fit the target audience you want to hear from. This is one of the most crucial parts of the survey resulting in roughly 25% of survey abandonments or drop-outs. At Toluna, we adopt the following tips in the screening phase of the survey: 

  • Avoid bias and ease respondents into the survey.
  • Ask general, broad questions to prevent respondents from being biased. 
  • If looking for specific data, consider providing a broader list of answers to mask the survey’s objective.

The Body of the Survey

As you move into the body of the survey, you will need to understand which questions to ask. Surveys don’t just consist of yes and no questions but various question types that cater to different appropriations depending on the answer you’re seeking. But before we dive into the different types of questions, the survey design is just as critical. Toluna offers survey design suggestions that truly engage with respondents.

  • Keep the Balance: Balance a survey with easy, various questions when open-ended questions cannot be avoided. 
  • Connect the Sections: Maintain an easy-to-follow survey structure with instructions, icons to direct respondents to the next step, and help tips for the technical part of the survey. 
  • Question Language: Ask precise and straightforward questions. Avoid ambiguous and multiple questions in one.
  • Open-ended Questions: Use multiple-choice questions when possible. Too many open-ended questions can be a nuisance. 

Closing the Survey

Once you’ve gathered all of the information and the survey has come to an end, remember to thank your respondents. Show your gratitude to respondents for participating in your survey and remind them how beneficial their insight is to the team. 

For more insightful information on how Toluna can deliver real-time insights, read Toluna’s Holistic Approach to Data Quality eBook

How To Write Good Survey Questions

Now that you know how to structure your survey correctly, it’s time to understand how to write effective questions. Here are some tips: 

  1. Structure Questions That Are Simple and to The Point: Ensure your questions are easy to understand and use simple language. 
  2. Avoid Words or Phrases with Unclear Meanings: Phrases such as most, numerous, many, and several could be subjectively understood to different respondents. Use words that have more objective meaning, such as almost all, a majority of, almost none, and a few.
  3. Limit Ranking Options: Avoid ranking options that surpass six items. Having a respondent rank a long list of items may lead to an abandonment of the survey. 
  4. In Multiple Choice Questions, Avoid Overlapping Choices: When asking a multiple-choice question, ensure your choices do not overlap.
  5. Offer An “Out” For Questions: Some respondents may not know or have experience with specific questions you ask. Giving them the option to mark “N/A,” “Does Not Apply,” or “Don’t Know” can save your survey from poor results.

The Different Types Of Survey Questions

After knowing how to write quality survey questions, you might be wondering about the different types of questions to ask. It’s important to note that the kind of questions you ask will affect the answers you get, impacting the analysis you receive. The most common survey question types are as follows: 

Multiple-choice Questions

Multiple choice questions are common survey question types. Multiple choice questions are easy to use and provide mutually exclusive choices. The answer options are fixed, making the survey-taking experience easier. The multiple-choice questions come in different formats. 

These are:

  • Single Answers: These use a radio button. The single format questions allow respondents to select one answer only. 
  • Multiple Answers: Commonly formatted with the square checkboxes. Respondents can select any number of choices, including none. 

However, multiple-choice questions have drawbacks in that they force you to limit your response to predetermined options. As a result, your results can be biased.

Open-ended Questions

We’ve briefly touched on how to be cautious with open-ended questions above, but these can be a great way to get meaningful answers in your survey. It allows respondents to provide unique, insightful data in their own words.  

Examples of open-ended questions are:

  • When you’re hungry, how do you determine where to get food from?  
  • How do you decide what to wear every day? 

Closed-ended Questions

Some questions only need a one-word answer; yes or no. You can use these questions to find out quick information.

Examples of closed-ended questions are:

  • Do you like to drink coffee?
  • Do you have a full-time job?

Rating Questions

Rating questions are an excellent way to gauge people’s opinions. Some examples include: 

  • On a scale of 1-5, how many stars would you use to rate the movie?
  • How valuable was our training today on a scale of 1-7?

Likert Scale Questions

Likert scale questions are great for finding out how satisfied respondents are with something.  Likert scale questions come on a scale ranging from one extreme opinion to another with a neutral option in the middle. Examples of Likert scales questions are:

  • I was affected by the recent changes in the workplace.
    • Strongly Agree
    • Agree
    • Neither Agree Nor Disagree
    • Disagree
    • Strongly Disagree
  • I would enjoy using this platform at work.
    • Strongly Agree
    • Agree
    • Neither Agree Nor Disagree
    • Disagree
    • Strongly Disagree

Wrapping It All Up

Now that you know how to properly design and structure your survey, select the ideal question format, and adequately word questions, you are on your way to collecting insightful user data. 

When reviewing your survey structure and questions, remember why you are writing the questions; to better understand your audience’s needs. The better you get to know your audience, the better you can support their needs. At Toluna, we are experts in conducting surveys and collecting consumer insights to better help you discover more about your target market. Contact us today to learn more about Toluna.

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