Often, though, answer options are ambiguous, too extreme or downright confusing. Here are some tips when survey writing to make sure your survey is easy to answer.

Check 1: Question before answer

Provide the response options after the question. This order is important because the response options are meaningless until you know what the question is. Participants should be able to choose an answer immediately, without confusion or delay.

Which of the following would you find easier to answer?

  • Do we frequently, rarely, or never beat your expectations? (options need to be read twice)
  • Do we beat your expectations frequently, rarely, or never? (can be answered immediately)

Check 2: Don’t overlap

Make sure your categories don’t overlap – it might sound obvious, but it is a common mistake that causes confusion and makes the results hard to interpret.

What age group would a 30 or 50 year old choose from the options below?

  • 0-30, 30-50, 50+ (2 possible options)
  • < 30, 30-49, 50+ (1 possible option)

Check 3: Balance the scales

Keep your scales balanced. This means having an even distribution of options from one extreme to the other. I have had clients who think they don’t need to include the most negative option (e.g. strongly disagree) because they assume none of their customers will choose it – but this may not be true! Here are two easy ways to check if your scale is balanced.

Look at the two end points of the scale – is the wording equally opposite?

  • very low to exceptional (unbalanced)
  • very low to very high (balanced)

If there is a logical midpoint of the scale – is there the same number of options on either side?

  • disagree | neutral | agree | strongly agree (1 negative, 2 positive)
  • strongly disagree | disagree | neutral | agree | strongly agree (2 negative, 2 positive)

Check 4: Include all possible options

Have you thought of all the possible responses? If you’re not sure, or there are too many possible answers to list them all, then add an “other, please specify” option. This way you will capture any important categories you missed, which can then be added to your next survey.

Is it possible for another answer to be given?

  • Which skills course are you enrolling in?
    marketing | finance | sales (covers all available options)
  • What skill do you most need to develop?
    marketing | finance | sales (needs an “other” option)

Check 5: Can you use standard classifications for some of your questions?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has standard classifications that you can use for your own survey questions. These are a good guide to the range of response options you should include, whether you choose to use their exact wording or change the language to suit your customers.

Using the same response options as the ABS can also make your survey easier to understand, because your customers have probably seen them before in the Census and other surveys.

This approach is most useful for demographic questions, such as employment and age categories.

The link that is probably the most handy, shows the ABS directories classification, organised by topic. When you select a theme it will then give you a list of individual publications. You can then click through to the publication and the “details” tab enables you to download a PDF version.

The survey writing guidlines in this article will ensure your survey is easier to answer, and this in turn will increase your response rate.

“ Make sure your categories don’t overlap – it might sound obvious, but it is a common mistake that causes confusion and makes the results hard to interpret. ”
 
Kate Tribe

Kate Tribe enables decision makers with limited time and resources to be clear-headed about the direction of their business. Drive change through meaningful data that solves the puzzle of understanding your tribe.

  • Add a comment (4)
  •  
  •