What Makes a Bad Survey Question?

What Makes a Bad Survey Question?

  • 4 min read

You might think that any survey question is a good one because it’s helping you to gain valuable insight from your respondents. But it’s important to ask the right questions. When respondents take a survey filled with good questions, they are more likely to have an enjoyable experience and finish the survey. When a respondent comes across one or several bad survey questions, it might rub them the wrong way and even cause them to click away from your survey. Below are examples of bad survey questions you should avoid using.

Leading Questions

Leading questions are questions that use bias language to influence the participant’s answer selection. The problem with leading questions is that the question might seem innocuous from the get-go, but it’s actually fishing for a certain answer. Not only should you strive for unbiased survey questions, but unbiased answers to the questions. Bias in surveys won’t give you accurate data to work with when making your next business decision.

Examples of bad survey questions that use leading questions include:

  • Did you enjoy our delicious new milkshake?
  • Are you upset with how long shipping takes?

To remove the bias from these questions, make your questions clear and objective. Avoid using adjectives to describe the subject of your question.

Loaded Questions

Loaded questions influence the answer of the respondent based on how it’s written. For example, if your question asks, “Where do you like to go swimming?” the question assumes everyone likes to go swimming and that they know how to swim. If the respondent doesn’t enjoy swimming or doesn’t know how to swim, they will have no choice but to abandon the survey or give an inaccurate answer. You should avoid writing questions like these to prevent dishonesty in survey answers.

The only time a loaded question is appropriate is if you ask a preliminary question first and then use skip logic to skip over people the question doesn’t apply to. For example, you can first ask, “do you like to swim?” In the answers, make sure there is an option for “I don’t know how to swim.” If the person answers “yes” they like to swim, go ahead and ask them where they like to swim.

Double-Barreled Questions

One of the most common survey mistakes is asking a double-barreled question. This type of bad survey question forces respondents to answer multiple questions at once. This isn’t the smartest way to acquire usable data from your survey. Your survey questions should always ask one question at a time so that you have an exact answer for each question. If you ask more than one question, you won’t know why your respondents answered that way or which question they were referring to.

Examples of good and bad survey questions that use double-barreled questions include:

Bad: How satisfied or dissatisfied were you with your hotel room and dinner on your trip?

Good: 1. How satisfied or dissatisfied were you with your hotel room? 2. How satisfied or dissatisfied were you with your dinner?

If you want the answer to multiple questions, use multiple survey questions.

Absolute Questions

An absolute question is one that doesn’t give the survey participants an opportunity to provide useful feedback. An example of a bad survey question asks “Do you always watch TV?” With only a yes or no option as the answer, you’re likely to receive “no” from every participant. A better way to ask a question like this is to remove “always” from the question and give a selection of answer choices.

An example of a good survey question is “How often do you watch TV?” You can then provide a selection of answers that allows respondents to specifically answer your question, like 2 hours per week. Avoiding absolute questions will not only make your survey participants happier, but it will give you better data to work with afterward.

Unclear Questions

A prime example of a good survey question is a simple question that is easy to understand. If your survey participant has to think about your question longer than a few seconds, it’s probably difficult to understand. If the participant can’t understand the question, they can’t answer it honestly. Make sure to use simple language and avoid clichés, abbreviations, slang, catchphrases and colloquialisms. You should also avoid any words perceived as potentially offensive.

Examples of unclear survey questions include:

  • Does your Medicare plan include OTC benefits?
  • How many selfies do you take per day?

The first question uses an abbreviation that not everyone might understand. For best practice, spell out everything and then add an abbreviation in parentheses for reference. The second question references selfies, which not all age groups might understand. For best practice, avoid slang and write out what you are actually asking, like “How many pictures of yourself do you take per day?” The less unclear the questions, the more accurate the response you will receive.

Random Questions

If your survey is all about a customer’s experience on your website, don’t throw in a random question asking them about their favorite food. Not only is the question out of context, but it’s completely random and irrelevant. If you want to know their favorite food so that you can offer a product related to it, give some background context before you include a random question in your survey.

Double Negative Questions

When editing your survey, watch out for double negatives that could potentially throw off the survey participant. For example, look for questions like, “Don’t not describe your experience in detail.” Instead, write “Describe your experience in detail.” The first version using the double negative might give your survey participants the impression that they shouldn’t describe their experience in detail, which is the opposite of what you want. Look for double negatives throughout your survey and change them to easier to read questions.

Create a Survey with Good Questions Using SurveyPlanet

Now that you’ve seen examples of good and bad survey questions, you should know what to avoid when writing your next survey. SurveyPlanet makes it easy to create your first survey. Upgrade to SurveyPlanet Pro for features including question branching, export tools and uploading images. Explore our beautiful themes, browse survey examples and other options when you log in or create an account.

Photo by BigStock