Crucial Do's & Don'ts For Your Surveys & Questionnaires

We’ve all used them or taken them at some point—questionnaires and surveys. They are excellent tools to get insightful information about your business, when used correctly. With the right questions, you can get an inside look into a target audience’s mind, get valuable feedback about a new product, receive insightful reviews and testimonials that will convert future prospective clients and more.  

There is a definite art and science to writing questionnaires or surveys with some specific question types, word uses and writing styles that work great and others not so much. Use these do’s and don’ts to make sure your questionnaires and surveys are as enticing and effective as they can possibly be.


1.     One of the biggest don’ts I’ve experienced at businesses large and small is something I call survey fatigue. This may not be a technical term but it states exactly what happens when you over-survey your audience and can have disastrous effects on your results.  When a business surveys the crap out of their employees and customers, it causes annoyance, low survey interaction rates and overall skewed data that doesn’t provide true value. I know you are surveying because you want to find out the juicy details, so before you send out your next questionnaire or survey, put yourself in the recipients’ shoes and ask yourself, “Would I be happy to receive and participate in this survey?” If your answers are positive then get to surveying. If they weren’t so positive, then I’d recommend taking a pause to review things. It sounds like you may need to revamp your survey program. Ask yourself questions like, “When was the last time I surveyed this group? What was the overall response like? Is this something that can be researched in another way like one-on-one interviews or focus groups if email isn’t a good method?”

Pro Tip: For businesses that have multiple surveys sent out each year, here’s how you can do it without survey fatigue. First, take a look at the survey content and make sure it is all essential and scrap anything that isn’t. Then, look at the topics and questions to see if anything can be condensed or pulled apart. Next, look at the timing and delivery, to create a survey schedule and choose the best delivery method. If your business is surveying 5 or more times a year then you most likely have survey fatigue. 4 surveys a year is even a bit much if your audience receives too many emails. Try to space your surveys out as much as possible. The more you bombard your participants, the more useless the results will be and we both know you are doing this to receive valuable information.

2.     Write questions without a bias. You know your thoughts, feelings and opinions? Remove them entirely from the process when you are creating a questionnaire or survey. All of this will get integrated within and end up influencing the person taking it. This will cause them to give you slanted answers and that means bad news for your results. Biases can be in the form of slanted questions or even the order and type of answer options the respondent has. So when creating multiple choice, true or false, or ranking answers make sure you follow industry best practices on the order and text that is used. When you start making up your own text answer options like, “No way!” instead of, “False” you are injecting your personality into the tool, which will skew their answers.

3.     Don’t overcomplicate the questions. Simplify, simplify, simplify! This applies to the questionnaire or survey goals, number of questions, types of questions, the types of words used to write the questions, the concepts you are trying to get feedback on, and complicated multiple part questions. Think about what you are really trying to achieve through your questionnaire and survey. Can you distill it to an individual concept or theme? Can you break question apart to make them easier to understand? Are all those questions essential? Can you ask the question in a different way to make it more succinct and effective?

4.     Be specific and clear. It’s very easy to write a question from a vague perspective. Keeping what it is you’re trying to achieve in your mind while writing your questions will help. You may also need to reference a specific product, time period or other piece of information to help them put their mind in that time or place. This will ensure that you get quality responses.

5.     Don’t use jargon or shorthand. No OMG, ABC, or dept. instead of department. Steer clear of all the acronyms, industry lingo, jargon, abbreviations and shorthand regardless of whether you know people will know it or not. There’s always bound to be someone that won’t.

6.     Speak common language. You may have a brilliant vocabulary but this is not the time to use it. Not everyone may understand what that fancy word you just used means. To be safe, avoid all sophisticated and uncommon words.

7.     Avoid negative questions. These are a form of biases because you may interject your opposition for the question in the form of  “never.” Avoid questions like, “Do you never...” Use questions like, “Do you ever...” instead.

8.     No hypothetical questions. Sometimes these questions pop up because you are trying to get a read on things like whether you should create a new product. The problem is that it’s really hard to answer questions about imaginary situations. The answers tend to be very unreliable. It’s better to write your question from the perspective of this is something you already do and gauge their feedback on it that way.

9.     Turn sensitive questions into ranges. This has to do with asking someone age, income, etc. These are all questions that people can be uncomfortable answering with a single, direct answer. By giving them a range to choose from—make sure you look at another survey to see how ranges are skewed and formatted to stay consistent and unbiased—you’ll get better data to work with.

10. Make sure fixed response questions don’t overlap. You know the questions that make you check the box that you fit into? Those are examples of fixed questions because there is only one correct answer for them. It’s important to make sure that when you create the categories for them to choose from that they don’t overlap with one another. If you don’t, you’ll end up with answers all over the place because they couldn’t pick on true answer. It’s also really important to include an “other” option and the ability for them to write in what other is. Sometimes other results in the most insightful answers.

11. Research question types and use what works best for your objectives. There’s a lot of different ways to ask a question. They tend to fall into 2 buckets: closed-end and open-end questions. Closed-ended questions include:

  • Dichotomous – a question with two possible answers
  • Multiple choice – a question with 3 or more answers
  • Likert scale – a statement with which the respondent shows the amount of agreement/disagreement
  • Semantic differential – a scale connecting two bi-polar words. The respondent selects the point that represents his or her opinion.
  •  Importance scale – A scale that rates the importance of some attributes
  • Rating scale – a scale that rates some attribute from “poor” to “excellent”
  • Intention-to-buy scale – a scale that describes the respondent’s intention to buy

Open-ended questions include:

  • Completely unstructured – a question that respondents can answer in an almost unlimited number of ways
  • Word association – Words are presented, one at a time, and respondents mention the first word that comes to mind
  • Sentence completion – An incomplete sentence is presented and respondents complete the sentence
  • Story completion – An incomplete story is presented, and respondents are asked to complete it
  • Picture – A picture of two characters is presented, with one making a statement. Respondents are asked to identify with the other and fill in the empty balloon.
  • Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) – A picture is presented and respondents are asked to make up a story about what they think is happening or may happen in the picture.

I’ve used the technical terms for everything to make researching examples and strategies easier for you. Questionnaires and surveys, when done correctly, really are helpful to your business. Creating them in the most impactful way possible can take some time but is well worth it when you finally understand why your customer’s aren’t buying your products or discover a completely new area of service that you hadn’t thought of. When you use surveys can vary, so keep your goals and objectives in mind and create the questions from there. Happy surveying!

Now it’s your turn. Do you use questionnaires or surveys in your business? Which of these tips is going to help you the most? Any other tips you’d like to throw out there? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Thanks for reading and be well!


Hi, I'm Tiffany! I'm a business coach and consultant who believes businesses with soul is the way to go. That's why I've made it my mission to help entrepreneurs live out their business purpose and grow their ideas into profits. Meet other like-minded entrepreneurs now in the Dreamer & Creator online community.

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