Best Survey Writing Tips

In this post, Mark Riseley, former Senior Advisor at Dalia and now Measurement Partner Lead at Facebook shares a short collection of things he’s learned about writing great surveys, especially for mobile devices. If you would like to see these tips demonstrated on example survey questions, click here to receive our survey writing tips for free white paper.

Keep it short and sweet

We learned that writing great surveys for mobile is not only about adapting to small screen sizes, but also about rethinking surveys from a respondent’s perspective. Not all questions types are appropriate for mobile surveys . Over-complicated question types, like elaborate matrix questions with detailed answer scales, are a big challenge for smartphone screens. In the mobile world, it is better to be concise than absolutely precise. You can shorten your questions simply with slight wording tweaks.

Writing great surveys for mobile is not only about adapting to small screen sizes, but also about rethinking surveys from a respondent’s perspective.

As much as possible, try not to overwhelm respondents with too many answer options. If you have a long list of answer options, try to break it down into thematic blocks to make it easy for the respondent to find the right answer choice.

Think like a user and avoid jargon

It’s easier for people to express what factors or criteria are important than to consider a long list of feature options, many of which they may not understand.

Use question-specific scale constructs

Try to avoid agreement scales. Respondents find them harder to answer and more confusing than question-specific scales. It might not be practical to always avoid agreement scales, but their use should be minimised.

Download our free survey writing tips white paper.

Framing

The answers you get depend on how you ask your questions. You may be asking for the same thing, but different approaches to asking will yield different responses.

Prioritise ease of answering over perfect balance

You may want to use negative statements for balance, but they may actually cause respondents to be tired and make mistakes.

Review answer choices carefully

Make sure your single response answer options are exhaustive and mutually exclusive. What you especially don’t want is to force the respondent to tick something that’s not true, or not be able to tick any of the options.

Keep it relevant

Use qualifying questions to avoid asking respondents to answer on irrelevant topics. Note the previous example could have been further improved by first asking if the respondent had ever bought online.

Watch out for double-barrelled questions

Ideally, one question should only tackle one issue. Referring to two or more issues at a time may frustrate the respondent when he/she can only answer for one. This may then result in inaccuracies in your data.

Pros and Cons of “don’t know”

Pros

It helps you avoid forcing respondents with no opinion to pick an answer they don’t believe.

Cons

It may be an easy way for respondents to avoid thinking and move quickly through the survey. You may also lose people with tentative opinions.

Leading questions

It’s all too easy to accidentally introduce your opinions in questions. Try to find neutral language that doesn’t imply any particular point-of-view.

Summary

Here are the key issues we have touched on:

  • Keep questions and answer options short and sweet.
  • Think like a user and avoid jargon.
  • Use question-specific scale constructs.
  • Prioritise ease of answering over perfect balance.
  • Review answer choices carefully.
  • Keep it relevant.
  • Watch out for double-barrelled questions and tackle one issue at a time.
  • The answers you will get depend on how you ask questions.
  • Consider the pros and cons of using “don’t know” as an answer option.
  • Avoid leading questions.

That’s it. Thanks for your time! Once again, don’t forget to download our free white paper which contains sample survey questions that you can use as a reference point in order to form your own best performing surveys. If you have questions about these survey-writing tips, feel free to reach out to us via contact@daliaresearch.com.

Download our free survey writing tips white paper.