In our quest to obtain data, we sometimes forget that survey respondents are people, too. This means that motivation, engagement and positivity have a big influence on the quality of survey data collected from respondents.


All else being equal, respondents prefer easy questions to difficult ones. Fortunately for them, and for us, questions that are easy to answer also tend to produce more reliable and valid data.


So what makes a question easy for respondents? Here are three simple steps to follow:

  1. Keep questions simple. Use language that’s easily understood. For every big word you could use, there’s generally an equally acceptable simpler one you should use instead. In addition, keep phrasing simple. Using simple words makes the sentences easier to read and comprehend. This will produce better data because it streamlines the first part of the cognitive response process.


  1. Make questions direct. You know what you want to know, so just get to the point and ask it. If you want to know how satisfied your respondents are with something then ask them a satisfaction question. Do not reformulate the question into a statement that asks for agree/disagree, true/false, or yes/no responses. These are actually cognitively more complex, because they require the respondent to first figure out what the underlying question is and then map their response to a scale that doesn’t match the construct.


  1. Avoid jargon. Words or terminology specific to a particular industry, group or profession can be confusing. If you are conducting a survey on an Internet panel or general population sample, use common language that most people understand. The only time you might consider using jargon is in a survey of a specific expert population that you are certain will understand the language more clearly than if you used common terminology.