Everyone knows that the way you phrase a question matters. “Are you crazy?” gets you a much different result then, “What did you base that on?” So don’t forget that surveys are no different in that respect than conversations. No ifs, ands, or buts about it–you must be conscious of your phrasing if you want to get the most out of your survey.


Given that a survey may materially affect the direction of your business, is all the more reason to be careful about how you build it, right? And the building block of creating any survey is the almighty question.


As an example, consider active versus passive. People tend to default to “don’t know” if you give them a chance. If you have experience dealing with a two-year-old, then you know this all too well. You don’t ask what they want (they will invariably respond, “no!”) you ask them if they want the yellow gloves or the blue mittens. See the difference?


So when writing surveys, if you really want to understand your customer’s preferences, there are some basics steps that will help produce the best insights. Let’s dig in.



As much as you want to avoid questions that allow respondents to default to a neutral position, you also want to avoid leading respondents to a specific response. Leading questions deliver bad data, and bad data is, well, not good. If you don’t make finding the truth your primary objective, then it won’t find you.




The government should force you to pay higher taxes. Agree or disagree?


Nobody enjoys being forced, and no one enjoys paying more taxes, so virtually no respondent is going to answer, “yes.” Instead, you could phrase it, “Should the government raise taxes to make up the current budget deficit?”


How would you rate the career of legendary outfielder Joe DiMaggio?


If DiMaggio is a “legendary” outfielder, the implication is that you should rate him highly. This nine-letter adjective will distort the responses. Instead, you could phrase it, “How would you rate the career of baseball outfielder Joe DiMaggio?” Now we’re getting somewhere!



Be direct. Look, open-ended questions can be useful when you want to elicit unexpected information, but when you want specific information, you need—no, absolutely have to have—specific questions.




What suggestions do you have for improving Tom’s Tomato Juice?


Let’s say you want to figure out how to adjust and improve the taste of your juice. Use this question and respondents may well offer you suggestions for things that you hadn’t even considered–texture, color, shape and even container designs! When what you’re after is suggestions about taste.


What do you like to do for fun?


If you manufacture sports equipment, discovering a respondent likes to go to the movies or play video games will not help you allocate your R&D budget. (It may drive you to despair, but it won’t be a profit driver.) Instead, be more specific. “What outdoor activities do you favor?” or “What is your favorite sport to play?”


Are we making sense here? Is this whole survey question thing starting to come into focus for you? Or maybe you need a bit more help.


Well, the good news is that we based this post on a NEW Qualtrics ebook, 7 Tips for Writing Great Questions. Happy surveying!


7 Tips for Writing Great Questions

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