Writing Effective Survey Questions

with Heather O’Neill, CEO of Pixels for Humans

Learn how to write survey questions to gather high-level information about your market in this tutorial.


Writing Effective Survey Questions

with Heather O’Neill

In today’s Take 5 tutorial, you’re going to learn how to write effective survey questions. Surveys are great tools for gathering high-level information in larger quantities and to understand the overall market, customer, or industry behaviors. Let’s get started.

Imagine you work at InVision on their web-based prototyping software. You’re conducting research into how users do or do not use design systems as part of their work and decide to start with a survey. Your survey goal is to understand how many teams are using the design systems and what they think a design system includes. This will help you build the right features into the InVision design system tool.

The first Big Idea for writing good survey questions is that: You need to balance your questions between “what’s easy to answer” and “what provides you value”.

This means you want to maximize the information you’re collecting for each question while keeping the answers straightforward.

To start our design system survey, it would be easy to simply ask, “Do you use a design system?” and allow people to answer Yes or No. However, that’s not a great question because the possible answers don’t provide you with as much information as they could. Instead, create an open-ended question with distinct answers.

This allows you to get more information from the same question while keeping it easy enough for your participants to answer. In this example, we not only learn that they have a design system, but we also learn more about how they are using it. It saves us having to ask that separately later.

It’s also important to ensure that multiple-choice options are distinct from each other. There should be no ambiguity between two answers so the correct option is always clear. For example, the phrase all the time in the second to last option is a bit ambiguous. Splitting this into two distinct time frames of weekly and every day makes it more clear.

Another Best Practice is to: Allow people to select multiple answers to a question.

Don’t make people pick one option when multiple answers may be true.

Another question you might ask is, “What tool do you use to store or maintain your design system?” In this question, only allowing a single choice may not tell us the most helpful information. Instead, allow participants to select multiple options so you can understand the full picture of the tools being used. Also note that our company’s tool, InVision, is on the list but intentionally not the first option so as to not lead the participant.

Our last Best Practice is to: Ask only one open-ended question.

The reason is because while open-ended questions can provide extremely helpful information, they are the least frequently answered. If you have too many open-ended questions in a row, participants are likely to abandon the survey.

Participants are most likely to answer the open-ended questions if they’re asked at the end of the survey. At that point, they’ve already invested time in filling out the rest of the survey, so it doesn’t feel like extra work. In this example, I’ve decided to ask my original question about using design systems but in a way that encourages a more detailed response.

The last Big Idea when creating a survey is to: Keep all the questions optional.

Users are more likely to abandon a survey when forced to answer questions that annoy or don’t apply to them. By making all the questions optional, you’ll retain more participants and gain more useful information. In some cases, you may only want full survey results. If that’s true, keep everything required.

In our survey on design systems, we started with all questions being required, but we saw a 17% lift in responses when we actually made them all optional. That’s the basics of how to create a great survey. Thanks for watching.

If you like this Take 5 clip, be sure to check out the rest of the series and also check out our entire course catalog at Gymnasium, where we feature more in-depth classes. I hope to see you there. Take care.

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