Create the Survey
- Craft clear and specific questions that tie directly to your survey’s goals
- Create the shortest survey possible that will still give you the information you need
After identifying the survey’s goals, you are ready for the next step: building the survey questionnaire. Below are tips for creating a clear, easy-to-answer survey that will capture high-quality feedback.
Tips for Effective Surveys
1. Keep your survey short.
- Respect survey respondents’ time. Design your questionnaire so that participants can complete your survey in just a few minutes.
- It is tempting to ask a lot of questions, but respondents are more likely to bail out on surveys that take too long to complete or that include irrelevant questions.
- If you have started with a long list of potential questions, work with your team to narrow it down; use the survey’s goals from STEP 1 as the guiding principle.
2. Only ask questions that will elicit the information you most need to learn.
- Keep the survey focused on “need to know” questions; the answers will provide information to help your agency craft the appropriate actions on relevant issues.
3. Make your questions brief, jargon-free and specific.
- BRIEF: In addition to keeping the number of questions limited, each question should be brief. Write short questions in straight-to-the-point language.
- JARGON-FREE: Avoid any language in your questions which could cause confusion or perhaps be off-putting to your respondents — no acronyms, technical terms or other “inside baseball” verbiage that could be unfamiliar to participants.
- SPECIFIC: Be precise about what you are asking. Instead of asking respondents for their thoughts on your agency’s “customer service,” ask them to rate specific elements that add up to good customer service (e.g., courtesy and professionalism of the staff, ability in accessing needed information, responsiveness to complaints, etc.)
4. Opt for closed-ended questions over open-ended ones.
- Try to keep most of your questions closed-ended ones to which respondents choose a response from specific choices you provide. Such questions include those regarding ratings, multiple-choice and questions to which respondents may select more than one choice from a list you provide. This approach will reduce the time necessary for respondents to complete the survey. It will also make it easier for you to analyze the results.
- You may want to include a limited number of open-ended questions that allow respondents to share suggestions or provide comments.
5. Consider what you will do with the data when thinking about what questions to ask.
- One way to keep your survey short and focused is to differentiate between essential “need to know” questions from the “nice-to-ask” ones. Only include essential questions on the survey.
- Review the list of questions and ask yourself: what possible actions would you take based on what you learn from each question? Does every answer choice give you a clear indication of what you need to learn?
- If you are unclear about either of the two issues above, consider rewriting — or even discarding — the question.
6. Respect respondents’ privacy.
- Surveys promising anonymity tend to have stronger response rates. If you choose to include questions that can either identify the respondent or certain characteristics of a specific respondent, you will want to ask these questions towards the end of the survey.
- Review your agency’s (and jurisdiction’s) privacy policies to understand best what information you may or may not collect from your respondents, and your agency's obligation to protect collected data. The privacy of the data you collect is of paramount importance.
- If you ask demographic questions (e.g., gender, age, ethnicity), always include an “I do not wish to share” or “I prefer not to answer” response option. Consider adding a brief statement before this series of questions explaining why you are seeking this information. Also, think about including a short statement affirming your agency’s nondiscrimination and inclusion policies.
- If you ask respondents to provide their names, explain why you want this information. Also, state clearly who will (or will not) see respondents’ names alongside their responses.
7. Respect their time.
- Again, it is essential to keep your survey short. Design your survey keeping in mind that respondents are doing your agency a favor by completing the questionnaire.
- Administer a brief, jargon-free, specific survey, and tell respondents clearly what you will do with their feedback. Providing clarity about how feedback is used ensures buy-in from participants and encourages honest feedback.
- Meet survey participants “where they are.” Like you, survey respondents have busy, hectic days; they will have little patience for responding to a survey if they do not understand the purpose of it (or even some of the questions).
Question Types and Examples