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    7 Tips to Help You Design an Online Questionnaire

    Online surveys are commonly used to find out customers’ opinions, both positive and negative. There are some specific rules that can be used to design an online questionnaire which, if followed, will help you gather useful feedback to provide insight that will enable you to offer products and services that you know your customers want.

    Tops Tips to design an online questionnaire

    We have put together our top tips for better questionnaire design to aid the success of your survey and improve data accuracy. After all, research projects are only as successful as the data collected!

    Tip #1 – The Questions

    The wording of questions must be clear! Use plain language, free of specialist jargon or acronyms which respondents may not be familiar with. Make sure your respondents know exactly what you want to know. For example, if you want to know what a person’s income is, be sure to be specific whether you mean annually or monthly and whether it is before or after tax.


    7 Tips to Help You Design an Online Questionnaire Tips to Help You Design an Online Questionnaire

    Tip #2 – Avoid Bias

    It goes without saying that questions should be unbiased. This can sometimes be more difficult than it sounds. In order to avoid misleading respondents, do not use any unnecessary descriptive words or ask leading questions, such as: ‘Should the government spend even more money on the NHS?’ or ‘I assume you agree that smoking is bad for your health?’ The wording chosen should be tested on a sample audience before you launch your questionnaire, so that you can identify and replace loaded or leading words and phrases.

    Tip #3 – Start with easy questions

    The overall approach to the design of an online questionnaire should be the funnel approach. Start with a few straightforward, general questions at the beginning of your survey.  More detailed, specific questions should be placed at the end. This way, general questions serve as an introduction and also as a sort of warm up for respondents so that they are not put off answering the more specific questions that follow.

    Tip #4 – Make answers exclusive

    When designing multiple choice questions, the principle of mutual exclusiveness of the response categories should be observed, i.e the response options should not overlap. This is essential for allowing respondents to make clear choices.  Nonspecific questions confuse respondents, leading to inaccurate results.

    Example Survey Question Example multiple choice question


    For example, the question above shows that if a person visits their local supermarket three times a week, they could select answer (a) or (b) as a correct response.

    Tip #5 – Be specific

    Designing questions with specific language is very important to enable respondents to understand what is being asked promptly and clearly. For example, when asking respondents whether they do certain activities on a 'regular' basis, the exact frequency meant by 'regularly' is vague, there is the need for more specific wording to enable respondents to understand and reply accordingly. Ambiguous phrases such as ‘often’ or ‘frequently’ should be avoided. Instead be specific and ask exactly how many times a person visits the gym.

    Tip #6 – Stay in the present

    In the design of an online survey, avoid including questions about respondents’ intentions for the future. Such predictions tend to be inaccurate most of the times, so they do not offer reliable data.

    Tip #7 – Be direct

    Finally, if the questions in an online questionnaire are very broad, they can provide respondents with excessive latitude for their answers. If the question is not direct, respondents can dwell on other comments that have little or nothing to do with the products or services being asked about. Suggestion related questions should be asked in a straightforward manner relating directly to the product or service in question.

    Effective design for better online surveys

    To sum up, the design of an online questionnaire is really an art that should not be overlooked. In this Smart Insights blog, we discuss Why Customer Data Should Shape your Marketing Strategy. You may think that you can run off an effective questionnaire quickly but, if the truth be known, it usually takes practice, care and attention.  Once completed, questions should be reread and edited to conform to the production of a quality survey that will provide you with actionable data. Pretesting questionnaires prior to launching them can help to assess their efficiency.

    Editor’s note: This post was originally published in September 2012 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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    About Author

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    Phil Cleave

    Phil is part of the Content team at SmartSurvey and has over 20 years experience in the PR and Comms sector writing for Tech Companies.

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