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Build better online questionnaires

Whether you’re a human resources professional conducting exit interviews, or an auto body shop owner trying to close the customer feedback loop, you’ve got to ask the right survey questions to get the answers you need.

The first step is to clearly define your goals: what are you trying to find out, exactly? Would an online poll help you identify trends or patterns—say, mobile adoption among your users—and inform product development plans? Are you just trying to calculate your Net Promoter Score (NPS) and improve customer satisfaction? Or are you aiming to use an online questionnaire to boost attendance levels for your next sales conference? Maybe you’re trying to win back clients who have decided to part ways. It’s important to know exactly what your objectives are in order to create an effective online questionnaire. Only then can you start asking the right questions.

Because defining your online questionnaire goals is so critical, working backwards can help ensure that you ask all the questions and get all the answers (or metrics) you need to meet those goals. For instance, if your questionnaire compares ad concepts, you might make the hypothesis that Concept 1 is preferred by X% of the respondent sample versus Concept 2, and Y% compared to Concept 3. Even though you’re not certain of the responses that will unfold, you can start to think about what sort of questions you need to ask your target audience in order to prove or disprove a hypothesis. In this case, nailing down a basic hypothesis about your ad concepts can help you craft questions that will uncover respondents’ preferences and perceptions.

Your questionnaire goals and potential use cases go hand in hand. Be sure you have a good understanding of how you plan to use your questionnaire, now and in the future. Is this a stand-alone questionnaire? That might be the case if, for example, you’re trying to assess employee engagement about a specific one-off company event like a corporate holiday party. However, if you’re planning to re-send that questionnaire after the next party or integrate it into your regular cadence for employee surveys, that may affect what questions you include in your questionnaire and when you send it.

Avoid technical words, jargon, lingo, or any industry-specific language that might confuse or frustrate your survey respondents. You’ll also want to be specific and concrete. Better to poll survey takers on “cell phone” usage rather than “handheld mobile device” usage. “Music” is much more specific than “content.” An easy way to make sure you’re using plain, easy-to-understand language in your questionnaire? Consider using a pre-test and send out your online survey or poll to colleagues. That way, you can double-check that what you’ve created is user-friendly and get ahead of any data collection issues.  

While it might be tempting to combine two questions in one, resist the urge. Double-barreled questions risk the reliability of your survey data and can have a huge impact on your end results. Take, for example, the following market research question: “Do you like our brand new Popsicle flavor, and would you buy it more frequently than the original flavor?” 

Since there are two questions embedded within, it’s difficult to gauge what respondents feel about each of the statements. The researcher won’t be able to get an exact measurement of either customers’ satisfaction with the new Popsicle flavor or their likelihood of purchasing, because any data collected from a double-barreled question is skewed. Instead of killing two birds with one stone, a double-barreled question cancels out the possibility that you’ll receive useful survey responses about either topic.

It’s important to keep your respondents engaged—and survey functionality and question types can help you do it. Sticking to a single question type in your online questionnaire not only limits the kind of data you collect, it also can create a repetitive respondent experience. Build your questionnaire with a thoughtful mix of questions (like multiple choice, dropdown questions, and open-ended questions) to lower the chance of survey fatigue. You should also consider using skip logic, which can improve your respondent experience by only showing them questions that are applicable to them. Just remember, you can use your survey design to enhance the questions you’re asking—which will improve your questionnaire overall. 

A big questionnaire no-no is the use of leading language, which subtly guides respondents to answer a question in a certain way. Any question that reflects bias, opinion, or non-neutral language is a leading question—and it’s usually influenced by the researcher’s own views or hypotheses. Take the following example: “There are many people who complain that our pricing model is unreasonably expensive. Are you one of them?” 

Whether intentional or not, the question is phrased in a non-neutral way that is likely not going to encourage honest answers about respondents’ perception of pricing. And once a respondent encounters one leading question, their answers to any questions that follow may be affected. In this case, if a respondent is led to answer a specific way about pricing, any data about the customer experience in general will probably not be useful or accurate. Plus, if customers think a company is trying to influence their survey responses, it can negatively impact that company’s brand image. If the company’s initial survey goal was to improve its customer relationship management (CRM), then a few leading questions may have a far-reaching negative impact on everything the survey is trying to achieve. 

Sometimes you need to look to the experts, and rely on a survey platform, to get inspiration for your questionnaires. Our survey templates come fully stocked with expert-written questions across a wide range of categories, from market research and customer experience to employee satisfaction. Using a survey template is a time-saver, but it’s also a way to understand what questions are typically asked in the type of questionnaire you’re creating.

If you don’t go the templates route, the SurveyMonkey Question Bank is a great source for thousands of pre-written, certified questions. As you build your online questionnaire, it’s easy to find and add the most frequently-asked question types by category. Every question and response set was created by our team of methodologists and written to reduce bias and give you the most accurate answers possible. They’re ready to use as-is, but you can always tweak them so they more closely align to your questionnaire goals or your brand. 

Use these top tips to create better, more effective questions for your online questionnaires, polls, and surveys. Because when you have a solid strategy for your questions, everything comes together—from your respondent experience to the real time data that you collect. Get started today with SurveyMonkey Audience to get access to millions of respondents who are ready to provide the answers you need to make critical decisions.

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