10 Practice Tips for Writing Online Surveys
Updated: Jul 14
Online surveys have become an invaluable tool for gathering data and insights from a wide range of audiences. However, creating an effective online survey requires careful planning and consideration. To help you maximise the quality of your survey and obtain meaningful results, I've put together a list of ten best practice tips for writing online surveys. By following these guidelines, you can improve response rates, collect accurate data, and gain valuable insights.
Define your research objectives: This is so important! This will also help determine whether a survey is the right choice of methodology! It is key in your objective to capture what it is you want to better understand. Having a well-defined objective will guide the entire survey creation process and help ensure the questions align with your goals.
Keep it concise: Online survey respondents generally have limited time and attention spans. Keep your survey as concise as possible to prevent survey fatigue and abandonment. Focus on essential questions that directly address your research objectives and avoid unnecessary or repetitive enquiries.
Think about your audience: Typically, when writing survey questions, use clear and simple language that is easy for respondents to understand. Avoid jargon, technical terms, or complex sentence structures. Be concise and precise in your wording to minimise confusion and maximise response accuracy.
Utilise closed-ended questions: Closed-ended questions, such as multiple-choice or Likert scale questions, offer respondents predefined answer choices. These types of questions are easier to answer and analyse, making data analysis more straightforward. However, ensure your answer choices cover all possible options and avoid leading or biased phrasing (use don't know, none of the above or neither). Make sure scale questions are consistently ordered (e.g. always Strongly disagree to Strongly agree) and are 'mirrored'. If you are using 'somewhat agree', balance that with 'somewhat disagree'.
Also balance the question types: While closed-ended questions are useful, include a mix of question types to gather diverse data. Open-ended questions allow respondents to provide detailed and personalised responses. I set these as non-mandatory to allow respondents to skip should they be pressed for time. Consider using them sparingly for specific areas where deeper insights are needed. Strike a balance between closed-ended and open-ended questions to obtain both quantitative and qualitative data.
Think of your survey like an upside down pyramid: The order of your survey questions can influence respondent behaviour and data quality. Begin with easy to encourage participation and establish rapport. Don't forget to include demographic questions you want to analyse by (if appropriate) like gender, age & region. Then gradually progress to more complex or personal questions. Group related questions together to maintain coherence and flow, ensuring the survey remains engaging throughout. Hopefully drop out rates are low, so think about placing more important questions earlier on in the survey.
Avoid leading or biased questions: Phrasing questions in a way that influences respondents' answers can lead to biased results. Ensure your questions are neutral and unbiased, allowing participants to express their genuine opinions. Avoid leading questions that assume a specific viewpoint and instead focus on gathering objective data.
Test it and do a soft-launch: Before launching your online survey, as well as testing among colleagues, conduct a pilot test (soft-launch) with a small group of representative participants too (between 5 and 10% of sample). This test allows you to identify any issues, such as unclear questions or technical glitches (see point 9), and make necessary revisions. Survey platforms alternatively offer dummy respondent runs which can test whether your routing is working as it should be. Adjustments based on feedback from the test can significantly improve the overall quality of your survey.
Optimise for mobile devices: Mobile optimisation reduces drop-out rates for surveys, with non-optimised mobile surveys having a drop-out rate of 18% compared with 2% for optimised. With the increasing use of smartphones and tablets, it is crucial to ensure your online survey is mobile-friendly. Design your survey with a responsive layout that adjusts to different screen sizes. Keep the design simple and user-friendly, allowing participants to complete the survey easily, regardless of the device they are using.
Offer incentives and express gratitude: To boost response rates, consider offering incentives to survey participants, such as vouchers, small discounts, free resources, or the chance to enter a prize draw. Additionally, express gratitude to respondents for their time and effort. A simple "thank you" message at the end of the survey shows appreciation and encourages future participation.
Writing effective online surveys requires careful planning and attention to detail. By following these ten best practice tips, you can create surveys that yield accurate and valuable data. Remember to define clear objectives, keep the survey concise, use clear language, and employ a mix of closed-ended and open-ended questions. I'm sure there are more, what would you recommend?