How to write good questions for online surveys

Richard Cowdery

Lead Digital Developer

Posted on May 13, 2019

Getting feedback from your clients is a great way of finding out what your business is doing right and where things might be going wrong. It’s a chance to correct issues, focus on what your clients need and help steer your business and marketing goals in the right direction.

On-line survey tools provide a quick and easy way to get this information, and services like Typeform and Survey Monkey make the construction of surveys a breeze.

These forms can be linked to from a website, either as a general call-to-action for anyone to answer. Or placed at a particular point in the customer journey, for instance when an order is placed.

Asking people to take part in a survey via email is another way of seeking feedback, and again, we can decide to send surveys out to everyone or to a segment of our customer list. For instance, maybe we want feedback from just those that have placed an order in the last 3 months.

Whatever way you decide to disseminate your survey, it’s clear we need to be very particular about the questions we ask and how we ask them. We want to get meaningful data back, and we don’t want to make it hard work for the person filling in the form!

Make it necessary

You need a survey because you want the answer to something that will provide valuable insight. Identify what you need to know and write your questions with just that in mind.

Make it short

The longer the survey, the greater the chance that the person filling it in is not going to make it to the end. Therefore, it can be helpful to give some idea as to how long the survey will take to complete before they start, and if the software allows it, an indication as to how far along in the process they are.

Make it simple

The language should be plain and unambiguous. Don’t give the person taking the survey a chance to get the wrong meaning from overly fancy or technical jargon.

Asking the right questions

Closed questions, those with a fixed number of possible options, are quicker to answer and easier to measure.

For example, asking ‘Which department do you work in?’ and listing out a choice of answers for the respondent will provide cleaner data for analysis than asking ‘Tell us about the department in which you work’.

On the other hand, open questions require greater thought by the person taking the survey but don’t provide specific points of data for analysis. These are answers that require the respondent to write something themselves which can provide greater understanding on a particular topic.

Finding a good mix is the way to go. A follow-up open question can often be used to provide insight after a closed question. Just don’t make them necessary to complete before proceeding to the next question, keep them optional.

Cover all answers

Not every question we ask can be answered by a handful of options. When we provide a list of answers in a multiple-choice format, think about adding ‘Other’, ‘Don’t know’ and ‘Prefer not to answer’ options where appropriate.


When question answers are presented in ranged order (e.g. 1-10, 11-20, 21-30, etc), remember not to overlap the values (e.g. 1-10, 10-20, 20-30) as this may appear somewhat disorganised due to the lack of attention to detail.


Questions that ask a user to rank a proposition within a scale is a common feature. It’s sensible to keep the number of options the same throughout the survey (e.g, 1-5 or 1-7) and the meanings attributed to that scale the same too. Odd numbered scales provide a middle option, which makes analysing data easier.

Test the survey

You might feel the survey you’ve spent hours planning and constructing is the best thing since sliced bread. Maybe it is, but you’ll never know unless you test first. Send the survey to a few people in your office and see what they say about it. If you have the opportunity to watch as they fill it in, even better, as you can get immediate feedback and maybe ask a few questions about the process as they go.

However you decide to go about creating an online survey, just remember to make the process easy and straight forward for your clients. Your clients experiences when interacting with your brand are memorable, so let it be for the right reasons.