How to Create Survey Questions

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Ah, the survey. How many times do people toss a survey into the trash because it's too long, the questions are vague or it asks for personal information? If you want your survey to be completed, you must know how to create survey questions that people will feel comfortable answering and that will give you the results you need.

1 Think

Think of the survey as a type of essay. You must decide what your purpose is and make that clear to your audience. Before you begin creating your questions, write down exactly what you need to know and what additional information would be helpful. Keep that list beside you as you write your survey questions. At the top of the survey or on the cover letter, identify the purpose of the survey and the date it needs to be returned. Make it clear that the survey is anonymous.

2 Think short and simple

Think short and simple. If you don't want your survey to land in the trash, keep the survey short and the questions precise and clear. Each question should discuss only one issue. Don't jump around with the questions, but follow a logical pattern just like you would if you were writing an essay. You are asking for people's time, so make sure you design the survey to be easy to fill out.

3 Are to answer and to analyze for the information needed

Multiple-choice questions are the easiest to answer and to analyze for the information needed. Have enough choices to cover all the possible answers. Example: Are you in favor of offshore drilling? a. Yes b. No c. Undecided d. Don't know Some people may not know what offshore drilling is, so make sure all possible choices to the question are included.

4 Don't make assumptions

Don't make assumptions. For example, if you are asking questions about health insurance, don't assume that all people have health insurance. Example: Are you satisfied with your present health insurance? a. Yes b. No What if the person doesn't have health insurance? Design the question as a follow-up question.Do you have health insurance? a. Yes b. NoIf you answered yes to the previous question, are you satisfied with your present health insurance? a. Yes b. NoNow, you need to know why they are not satisfied if they answered "no." Continue with another follow-up question.

5 Avoid questions with unclear adjectives

Avoid questions with unclear adjectives (more, less, few, many). Few to some people may mean more than two. Use precise words. Avoid abbreviations that people might not be familiar with, such as NEA (National Education Association). Remember, keep the survey precise and clear.

6 If using a rating scale

If using a rating scale, make sure there are two extremes for your answers. Explain the extremes because you may have to use modifiers (very, somewhat).Example: Rate the following from 1 to 5 where 1 is NOT INTERESTED and 5 is VERY INTERESTED.Again, consider how you will collect the data and analyze it. Multiple-choice is much clearer and easier to collect information from than a rating scale.

7 Finally

Finally, test your survey by having some people fill it out and tell you about any confusing questions or answer choices. Remember, think of the survey as a piece of writing. You would have someone critique your writing before sending it out, wouldn't you? If you keep your survey anonymous, short, simple, precise, clear, and focused, you decrease the chances of it landing in the trash.

  • Don't expect people to recall information they have to look up.
  • Don't expect high returns on the survey, so send out more than enough to get the results you need.
  • Make sure your answer choices are not ambiguous. "College" and "continued education" may mean the same to someone.
  • Avoid having people rank a series of items. It becomes time consuming and confusing. You want them to answer all questions without any frustration.
  • Avoid using "and/or" in your question.
  • Give your survey an interesting title just like you would give your writing an interesting title.

Pauline Gill is a retired teacher with more than 25 years of experience teaching English to high school students. She holds a bachelor's degree in language arts and a Master of Education degree. Gill is also an award-winning fiction author.