Writing Effective Questions

Five Hallmarks of an Effective Question

The following are characteristics that make up an effective survey question:

Short, Easy to Understand with Simple Words

Decrease the level of sophistication in survey writing to a 9-11th grade level and speak to the audience you are targeting. Don’t use big words, and use simple sentences and simple choices for the answers. You may even want to think about adjusting the language to meet the audience.

Non-biased, Non-leading

Arrange your questions in an order that does not create bias. Another way to limit bias is to randomize the order in which the options appear. The most common place bias is found is in the question itself. Beware of leading your respondents in one direction over another. You wouldn’t want to do that, would you? This is an example of question bias.

Clear Choice Can be Made Without Looking Too Far Back or Into the Future

Often, respondents have difficulty remembering too far back or too far into the future. Keep a logical time frame, usually within the month or year is sufficient. Also keep in mind that sometimes it is hard for respondents to know which answer to choose. Asking, “Where do you currently work?” may leave respondents who are out of work confused and unable to clearly pick the best option.

Specific, Doesn’t Ask Two Questions in One

Asking two questions in one is called a double-barreled question. For example, “What is the fastest and most economical Internet service for you?” The fastest is not always the most economical. Be clear and specific in your directions and in your questions.

Fits the Needs of your Research

A sign of a good survey question is that it fits the needs of your research. If you don’t know what you’ll do with the data, throw the question out. Keep your survey questions direct, to the point, and pertinent.