Best Practices for Writing Survey Questions


Whether you’re a business owner looking to make decisions for the direction of your brand, or you work on a marketing team creating go-to-market strategies for new products, surveys are a fantastic way to gain insights to what is best for your organization. Surveys allow you to learn more about your target customers, gathering their opinions and insights into their experiences with your products and services. However, getting high-quality, useful, and representative data can be a challenge. In this blog, we’ll discuss four of the best practices for writing survey questions so that you can get the best data and make smarter business decisions.


Target the Right Audience 

Before you build your survey questions and program the experience, you need to dedicate time to identifying your target audience so that you can better understand who you’re writing the questions for, and why. Ask the following questions before you begin:

  • Who is your typical or intended customer?
  • What are you trying to learn?
  • What are the gaps between your existing knowledge base and what you’re trying to discover that your survey must address?

By having a clear understanding of your target audience, you can better tailor your questions to get the right results the first time. 

Utilize Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions prompt a short-from written answer from your survey participant that allow for full and personalized responses. Having open-ended survey questions provide opportunities to learn about your respondents in detail, giving them the chance to express their thoughts in their own words without restricting them to a multiple-choice or scale answer. For the best results, combine open-ended questions with closed-ended options, which will give you a balanced blend of qualitative and quantitative data from which to draw your conclusions.


Red Herring Questions

In order to accurately learn more about your audiences’ views, your key focus should always be the quality of your research, and this, of course, starts with the writing of your survey questions. But to better ensure that your audience is paying attention throughout the interview, consider adding red herring questions into your survey.

Red Herrings are attention-testing questions designed to identify participants who have either stopped reading the questions midway through answering or have simply rushed to the end of the survey to receive the payment or reward. Seeing failed Red Herrings are a great way to identify which survey results you should remove from your final data set.

Here is an example Red Herring question for a makeup company:

What makeup brand do you use most often?

  1. Maybelline
  2. Nars
  3. Avon
  4. Purina

Respondents who answer ‘D’ are likely rushing through the survey and might not even been reading the questions. Purina is a not a makeup company, it is a popular pet food brand. Having a survey response with that answer implies that this participant’s answers will not produce reliable results and could skew your final data set. Completed surveys with that response should be omitted when you analyse your results.  


Length of Interview 

Once you know the type of questions you’ll be including in your survey and you’ve homed in on your target audience, it’s time to put it all together. When taking this next step, make sure that the total length of the survey is appropriate.  You don’t want to miss key questions, but at the same time, you must respect your participants’ time by keeping things as concise as possible and only asking what you really need to know. This also ensures that respondents will be engaged throughout the entire survey and reduce drop-off rates.

Writing survey questions can be a time-consuming and, at times, tedious process, but by making sensible, informed decisions, you can produce high-quality data that has the potential to transform the way you approach your business. You can follow these tips in your next survey design yourself or utilize our award-winning Vision Surveys software and services to capture engaged participants and impactful data for your organization.

InnovateMR is a fiercely independent full-service ResTech company that delivers faster, quality insights from business and consumer audiences utilizing cutting-edge technologies to support agile research. As industry pioneers, InnovateMR provides world-class end-to-end survey programming, targeted international sampling, and customized consultation services to support informed, data-driven strategies, and identify growth opportunities. Known for their celebrated status in customer service and results, InnovateMR combines boutique-level service with extensive global reach to achieve partner success.