Best Survey Practices: The Ultimate Survey - See Tips from a Pro

Choose the right question

Asking the right questions - how to design a survey that works for your respondents?

A survey questionnaire has a great impact on the quality of responses that you will receive. In this article, we will explore a few key themes related to survey design, based on what we have found to be effective at Zeffi over the past 25 years.

The key to designing an effective questionnaire is to put yourself in the respondent's shoes and to carefully consider the language that you use. It is also important to limit the number of questions with clear choices at the outset. This is easier than you might think - we will give you our recommendations below.

Practical guide to Appreciative Survey Set up

It all starts with thinking about the core issues that are relevant to the survey topic. What are the value drivers that you want to explore in the survey? Are the potential candidates already known to you or are you starting from a situation where you are still exploring a large pool of potential respondents? And are the topics of interest to you such that respondents will be willing to provide information, or will you need to be careful with your choice of words in order to get the information you want from them?

Once you have a clear idea of the themes that you want more information about, think about a small number, perhaps 3-5 questions per theme, that will allow you to explore those areas in sufficient depth. The overall number of questions in the survey should be kept low - think carefully about each question and whether it adds value over the previous ones. By keeping the number of questions reasonable, you are showing that you value their time.

Another key indicator of respect is the language that you use. How do members of your target group want to be addressed? Can you be direct or is it better to be overly polite? Does the terminology used reflect your expertise but without unnecessary jargon that might be confusing to some respondents? Are all of the questions clear and free of complex and/or confusing wording? Each question should be able to be understood in one reading without the respondent having to think about what the questioner really wants to know.

Zeffi's 25 year experience supports the idea that, in addition to the two factors of survey scope and language, the type of questions used is also a key indicator of respect for respondents. By using graphical question types - i.e. scales and 2 dimensional questions - you are providing a proven best respondent experience.

You can test this out for yourself in your own organization. Do you have a survey where you have previously used a multiple-choice or "tick box" type of response? Change the questions to scales or 2D questions and see what happens to the survey drop-out rate.

So, how do you go about creating a good survey questionnaire?

Here are a few practical tips for successful questionnaire design.

  1. Start by creating the question groups directly in Zeffi or sketch them out on paper. Each different theme is its own question group. For example, in an employee survey, the themes might be "Communication", "Line management", "Rewards" etc. For short surveys of less than 10 questions, grouping is usually not necessary. If you are asking for background information in the survey, our recommendation is to place it as its own question group after the main questions. The reason for this is that, from a respondent experience perspective, it is best to start the survey with a scale or 2 dimensional question, which background questions are not.
  2. Place the questions under the themes in question groups. Our recommendation is to use at least 3 questions per question group and to turn on "Intelligence" for the groups. This enables you to use quick SWOT type of analysis to get deeper insights in the reporting later on.
  3. Adjust the visual look to match your organization's graphical guidelines. Zeffi has a special Design Bot function for this purpose and you can find the right graphics and styles easily on our website.
  4. Finally, consider the accessibility of the survey if your organization is part of the public sector or if you want to serve your customers well in terms of accessibility. This can be done by turning on the "Show Accessibility Toggle" in the "Settings" section.
  5. You are now ready to publish the survey and to distribute it to respondents using the method of your choice. Easy, right?

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