How to Write Effective Survey Questions

In the lab we say, "KYQS" (which you can't actually pronounce). It means "Keep Your Questions Simple." The most effective pairLab survey questions are so simple participants only have to read them once. Here are the best practices for KYQS.

Be Short

You want participants to focus on voting pairs. A lengthy question will distract them.

Let's use the Ice Cream demo as an example. We want participants to choose the better of two ice-cream flavors. Here's an example of what not to write:

Imagine you're on vacation by the beach. You've been walking the boardwalk all morning. The sun is rising high in the sky and the breeze stopped blowing over the ocean. It's July and so hot you could fry an egg on the boardwalk. You feel like passing out when you realize only ice cream can make this hot day tolerable. You walk further down the boardwalk until you get to the only ice cream shop in sight. You walk in. The man behind the counter asks you what you want. You look at the 100 varieties of ice cream he has to offer. How to decide? Your eyes catch these two flavors. Which one would cool you down enough to brave the beach for the rest of the afternoon?

Wow. Who's going to read that? Your participants will quit before they ever cast a vote. 

Keep your participants focused by keeping the question short.

Ask Participants to Make a Choice

If you are familiar with the "Would you rather … ?" game, you know how to write a question. If you've never played, here's how Wikipedia describes it:

"Would you rather" is a conversation or party game that poses a dilemma in the form of a question beginning with "would you rather." The dilemma can be between two supposedly good options, ... two attractive choices, ... or two supposedly bad options.

The would you rather game's genius is its flexibility. The question simply asks participants to choose between two options. Because the question is not emotionally charged, it's the options that grab attention.

Like the would you rather game, word your question so that participants focus on the choice in front of them. How do you do that? Simply ask them to make a choice.

Bonus tip: You don't need to say, "which of these two ..." in your question because participants will always have two ideas to choose from.

Make it Personal

Avoid passive, impersonal language. Instead, focus on your participant. You want them to feel that they are the only person you're asking for an opinion. Word your question in a way that asks your participant to voice their own views.

Here's what not to write:

Which of these ice cream flavors would people prefer to eat?

People? What people? You want to know what this participant feels right now. Forget people and ask this participant what they think.

Example Question

Pulling all this together, here's how the question looks in our Ice Cream demo:

Which ice cream flavor do you like more?

Breaking this down:

  • It's short (only eight words)
  • It asks participants to make a choice
  • It uses uses language directed at them


Posted by Christian
on March 2, 2022