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How To Write A Good Survey

Words are often used in different ways by different people; your goal is to write questions that each person will interpret in the same way. A good question should be short and straightforward. A questionnaire should not be too long, use plain English and the question shouldn't be difficult to answer. Only through careful writing, editing, review, and rewriting can you make a good questionnaire. The following provides you with guidelines for conducting your surveys: 

Table of contents

  1. Write a short questionnaire
  2. Use simple words
  3. Relax your grammar
  4. Assure a common understanding
  5. Start with interesting questions
  6. Don't write leading question
  7. Avoid double negatives
  8. Balance rating scales
  9. Don't make the list of choices too long
  10. Avoid difficult concepts
  11. Avoid difficult recall questions
  12. Use Closed-ended questions rather than Open-ended ones
  13. Put your questions in a logical order
  14. Pre-test your survey
  15. Naming your survey
  16. Cover memo or introduction


Write a short questionnaire

Above all, your questionnaire should be as short as possible. When drafting your questionnaire, make a mental distinction between what is essential to know, what would be useful to know and what would be unnecessary. Retain the former, keep the useful to a minimum and discard the rest. If the question is not important enough to include in your report, it probably should be eliminated. 

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Use simple words

Survey recipients may have a variety of backgrounds so use simple language. For example,  "What is the frequency of your automotive travel to your parents' residents in the last 30 days?" is better understood as, "About how many times in the last 30 days have you driven to your parent's home?" 

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Relax your grammar

Relax your grammatical standards if the questions sound too formal. For example, the word "who" is appropriate in many instances when "whom" is technical correct. 

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Assure a common understanding 

Write questions that everyone will understand in the same way. Don't assume that everyone has the same understanding of the facts or a common basis of knowledge. Identify even commonly used  abbreviations to be certain that everyone understands. 

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Start with interesting questions

Start the survey with questions that are likely to sound interesting and attract the respondents' attention. Save the questions that might be difficult or threatening for later. Voicing questions in the third person can be less threatening than questions voiced in the second question. For example, ask: "How do your colleagues feel about management?" rather than "How do you feel about management?" 

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Don't write leading questions

Leading questions demand a specific response. For example: the question "Which day of the month is best for the newly established company-wide monthly meeting?" leads respondents to pick a date without first determining if they even want another meeting.  

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Avoid double negatives

Respondents can easily be confused deciphering the meaning of a question that uses two negative words.  

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Balance rating scales

When the question requires respondents to use a rating scale, mediate the scale so that there is room for both extremes.  

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Don't make the list of choices too long 

If the list of answer categories is long and unfamiliar, it is difficult for respondents to evaluate all of them. Keep the list of choices short.   

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Avoid difficult concepts 

Some questions involve concepts that are difficult for many people to understand.

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Avoid difficult recall questions 

People's memories are increasingly unreliable as you ask them to recall events farther and farther back in time. You will get far more accurate information from people if you ask, "About how many times in the last month  have you gone out and seen a movie in a movie theater or drive-in?" rather than, "About how many times last year did you go out and see a movie in a movie theater or drive-in?"   

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Use Closed-ended questions rather than Open-ended ones

Most questionnaires rely on questions with a fixed number of response categories from which respondents select their answers. These are useful because the respondents know clearly the purpose of the question and are limited to a set of choices where one answer is right for them.  

An open-ended question is a written response. For example: "If you do not want a company picnic, please explain why". If there are an excessive number of written response questions, it reduces the quality and attention the respondents give to the answers. 

However, InfoPoll allows you to use a wide variety of other types of questions. 

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Put your questions in a logic order

The issues raised in one question can influence how people think about subsequent questions. It is good to ask a general question and then ask more specific questions. For example, you should avoid asking a series of questions about a free banking service and then question about the most important factors in selecting a bank.  

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Pre-test your survey

It is better to identify a problem during the pretest than after you have published the survey. Before sending a survey to a target audience, send it out as a test to a small number of people. After they have completed the survey, brainstorm with them to see if they had problems answering any questions. It would help if they explained what the question meant to them and whether it was valid to the questionnaire or not. 

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Naming your survey 

Some people discard an electronic message based entirely on its subject or sender. You should consider other titles that will pique the interest of the recipients. Here are examples of survey names that might be successful in getting attention:   

Memo From the Chief Executive Officer 
Evaluation of Services of the Benefits Office 
Your Opinion About Financial Services 
Free T-shirt 
Win a Trip to Paris 
Please Respond By Friday
Free Subscription
Win a notebook computer

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Cover memo or introduction

Once a recipient opens your survey, you may still need to motivate him or her to complete it. The cover memo or introduction offers an excellent place to provide the motivation. A good cover memo or introduction should be short and includes:  

Purpose of the survey 
Why it is important to hear from the correspondent 
What may be done with the results and what possible impacts may occur with the results. 
Address identification 
Person to contact for questions about the survey. 
Due date for response

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