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Whether you’re creating personas or trying to get ideas to update your product, surveys are an important tool to use. Surveys will let you talk to customers directly and get input about their needs and interests without having to make assumptions or guesses. But what makes a good survey? How do you create a survey that people want to fill?

Why, why, why?

The most crucial thing that you need to define is the objective, and there are two things to remember:

  1. You have to know what your main objective of the survey is. What are you going to use the information for? Why do you want to know this information about your customers?
  2. Keep this objective in mind when you formulate all of your questions. All your questions should be designed to help you achieve your goal, whether it be directly or indirectly. If it’s not related to your goal, it’s not going to help.

Leading Questions

Perhaps the trickiest and most essential thing to remember throughout the entire survey is to make sure that you don’t ask any leading questions. These are questions that encourage people to respond one way or another. Asking people “Is X the best Y?… Would you say that X is reliable?…” or many other questions that immediately label something as good or bad within the question are all leading questions.

It may sound simple, but you’d be surprised at how easy it is to create a leading question without knowing it.

One Idea

In designing your questions, you have to be careful that each question covers only one idea at a time. That’s why it’s important to define the goal and know which questions are essential to ask. For example, if your objective is to improve customer service and you ask the question:
Are our representatives easy to reach and helpful?

This is what is a called a “double barreled” questions. It asks about two separate ideas and it will not lead to good results because people may not know how to answer it properly. What is the right answer if they are not easy to reach but they are helpful when reached? Sticking to this rule of “one idea per question” can be as simple as being careful of when and how you use the word “and.”

Type of Questions

It is important to ask all types of questions: open-ended and close-ended. Asking open-ended questions allows your audience to express themselves and give answers in their own way. This might give you ideas and answers that you had not thought of. However, the drawback of this is that you don’t want people to get tired of writing or feel too much pressure to think about the answer, both of which might cause them to lose interest and abandon the survey.
Close-ended questions such as yes/no, multiple choice, and likert scales will allow you to more accurately place people’s responses into categories. This can also be helpful in narrowing down details about personas.

One important thing to remember, particularly when using likert scales or questions that are on some sort of spectrum, is to make sure that the number of options is even. This is because it is easy for people to provide the most neutral or uncommitted answer.

Style of Writing

There are many things that can be said about the style of writing that your questions should involve. First, you’ll want to make sure to avoid double-negatives or technical jargon that the audience might struggle to interpret. Those are basic things to remember along with general tips about spell-check and proper grammar. More importantly however, you should avoid using words that involve absolutes (such as every, all, never, ever, best, etc). These words are often detrimental because people are likely to shy away from polarizing statements that make extreme generalizations. Instead of asking “I would never buy a used phone” it would be better to place a scale where you say “how likely are you to buy a used phone?” The first question is inherently yes/no/maybe and it doesn’t provide useful information because there are circumstances in which the answer might be yes or no. The second option allows people to think a bit about how likely they are to encounter situations where they would say yes and compare with scenarios where they would say no.

Personal

The last important tip is to make it personal. You don’t want people to think that they are interacting with a robot that doesn’t care about their opinion and you also don’t want them to get bored. Writing questions in a tone that is a bit informal can help your audience enjoy the survey and treat it as a social interaction rather than a study where they are experimental subjects. The occasional use of humor is also okay, especially if it helps keep the audience moving along.