Survey Design Best Practices – Part 3


Whether you are new to writing survey questions or you have lots of experience, it’s always good to review some common pitfalls in survey design. Below are our final five tips on survey design best practices when doing your own research and reviewing someone else’s surveys.

  1. When you use a scale for your questions’ options, be consistent.  If you have decided to use a 7-point scale for a satisfaction question, you should use a 7-point scale on any other question that requires a scale.
  2. Scale questions that are asking the same kind of question should always have the same options. For example, 1=very unsatisfied to 7=very satisfied for every satisfaction question, always in that order and with that same numerical range.
  3. Make sure response options don’t overlap.  For example, if you are asking for someone’s income, the options should be “$20,000 to $30,000,” “30,001 to $40,000,” and so on, not “20,000 to $30,000” and “$30,000 to $40,000.”
  4. Avoid large matrix questions.  Sometimes you will want to know the same thing for multiple items, for example, you may want to know how satisfied people are with different product features.  If you have a few, you can set up a matrix with the features along the left and the options from “very unsatisfied” to “very satisfied” in a row along the top.  People can quickly answer for each feature this way. If there are too many features, however, people will feel overwhelmed and may leave the survey.  It is better to split the features up, have matrices with around five features at a time on separate screens.
  5. For some lists of options, you should randomize the order of the options.  If you are asking people which adjectives match an ad you’ve just shown them, for example, the options (confusing, boring, funny, etc.) should be shown in different orders.  This accounts for order effects, such as people tending to choose the first one that sounds good to them.  There will still be questions that should not have their options randomized.  These include any question that involves a scale, such as “How satisfied are you?” or questions where people pick one answer from a list of items such as “Which grocery stores do you shop at?” These types of lists should be alphabetized so the respondents can easily find their item.

If you missed it originally, please check out Part 1 and Part 2 in this three-part series on Survey Design Best Practices. If you have questions about this series or have other questions about market research, please feel free to email us. We love talking about market research!

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