How to write good survey questions

Attest Academy survey questions

How to get accurate answers

If respondents aren’t questioned in the right way, they won’t open up and give you the realistic, insightful answers you need. You don’t want to waste time and money on answers you later decide are unimportant.

These steps ensure not a single question is wasted. Once you learn them, you can apply them to all your future research projects.

Ask yourself: Will this question give me good insights?

Every question you write should give you information that allows you to say: “Great, now I have this knowledge, I can do X!”. Reverse engineering each question from your desired answer will make sure all the data you get is actionable.

Choose between quantitative or qualitative, or use a mixture of both

Quantitative data is simpler to interpret, and produces results that can be acted on relatively quickly.

Qualitative data takes longer to interpret because it requires someone to read and process each response. But it does allow respondents to express their opinions in their own way, revealing unique insights you can’t access through numbers or pre-formatted answers.

Often surveys include a mix of quantitative and qualitative questions, but this will be determined by the aim and scope of the survey.

Don’t write too many questions

Attest’s dashboard caps surveys at a maximum of 40 questions, optimized to avoid fatigue and produce the highest quality responses.

If you think you need more than 40 questions, consider reducing the scope of the survey or splitting it into a series of smaller surveys for more engaged responses.

Running more focused surveys, more frequently, will yield much better results than saving everything up and asking everything you’ve ever wondered, all in one go. The ‘kitchen sink’ approach can result in an unfocused survey that confuses respondents, de-motivates them, and provides less value.

… and mix up the question types

Even a relatively short survey that repeats the same question type will bore people. Use a mixture of types to make sure respondents stay engaged.

Use plain language

Don’t assume that respondents understand your business jargon, acronyms or slang. Engaging consumers with a friendly, conversational tone encourages honesty and commitment, leading to more reliable results.

Unsure about the right way to phrase questions? Get in touch with Attest, or run questions past a colleague to make sure they’re easy to understand.

Good and bad examples of survey questions

Here are some tips that are specific to how you actually write your questions.

Avoid double negatives

Don’t bamboozle your respondent by expecting them to unpick a double negative.

❌ Bad example✅ Good example
Do you think a brand’s ethics are not insignificant?How significant are a brand’s ethics to you?

Use consistent scales throughout

Choose a consistent answer range (and stick to it). 

❌ Bad example✅ Good example
How many stars would you give Starbucks out of 5? Rate Dunkin’ on a scale of 1-10. Rate Starbucks on a scale of 1-5. Rate Dunkin’ on a scale of 1-5. 

Avoid compound concepts

Ask one question at a time—if you combine ideas, your insights won’t be reliable.

❌ Bad example✅ Good example
Name one fashion brand you think is reasonably priced and good quality.Name one fashion brand you think is reasonably priced. Name one fashion brand you think is good quality.

Avoid leading questions

You want honest answers. Don’t lead respondents towards a certain answer that’s favorable to you. 

❌ Bad example✅ Good example
How awesome was our customer service?How was our customer service?

Offer mutually exclusive options

For single and multiple choice questions, make sure you don’t give options that overlap.

❌ Bad example✅ Good example
$5-10; $10-15; $15-20$5-10; $11-15; $16-$20

How to increase survey engagement

When running a piece of research, you also want your respondents to be engaged with the content so they give you high quality answers. Here are our top tips for increasing engagement.

Don’t bore people

Avoid repetition—AKA, too many similar questions in a similar format. This is dull for the respondent and they risk losing concentration. 

Use open text sparingly

Be wary of using too many open text or grid questions. These are more challenging for respondents and can lead them to get tired with your survey.

Guide respondents through your survey

Use text cards to pace the survey—explaining what’s coming up next is helpful—particularly if you are switching subject matter.  

Be clear and relevant

Remember, your respondent has limited time (and patience). Make sure your questions are simple, make sense, are relevant to the respondent, and that it’s clear what you are asking them to do. If in doubt, get a second opinion from a friend, colleague, or from Attest’s Customer Research Team

The Consumer Research Academy is brought to you by the Customer Research Team—our in-house research experts. Any research questions? Email or chat with the team.