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Survey design: Best practices and 15 expert tips

Beautiful surveys perform better. Read our 15 top tips to make more effective surveys and create a bigger impact with your business.

There’s no tool better for gathering data about people than a survey. But there are still some considerations that can help turn your so-so survey into a great one. Stick around for a few minutes to learn survey design basics from the experts and gather 95% more data—all made easy with Typeform.*

Survey design best practices

Let’s kick it off by going over some advice for good survey design you can apply to any typeform.

  1. Work out what you want to know: Work backward and build your survey around the information you need. This helps you decide what types of questions you should ask.

  2. Keep people informed: Be upfront about the information you need and how long a survey will take. Otherwise, respondents may lose interest, and you’ll lose data.

  3. Know your demographic: Different groups of people respond to surveys differently. Consider your survey design, how you distribute the survey, and how you structure questions in the context of your target demographic.

  4. Always test your survey: There’s always room for improvement. Check on question drop-off once your survey is live to see if there are opportunities to boost survey response rates.

  5. Use a variety of questions: Mix up your questions to keep things interesting. A variety of open- and close-ended questions makes a survey more engaging.

  6.  Avoid asking leading questions: These questions infer information about the respondent and create biased responses. For example, “How do you feel about this exciting opportunity?” suggests that the respondent should be excited.

  7. Put your questions in the right order: Your survey should be conversational. Group similar questions together—for example, start with gathering demographic information before moving on to other questions.

  Shall we dive in deeper?

1. Know your end goal

Like with any project, it’s important to have clear, measurable goals. If you don’t know the purpose of your survey, then you’re not ready to start it.

Get specific with your survey’s goal. Do you want to understand customer sentiment? Analyze your target audience? Discover who your repeat customers are? These are all guiding questions to help design your survey.

Say you want to build a profile of new customers. It doesn't make sense to ask new customers what they think of your product immediately after a purchase. But it makes sense to ask where they heard about your product. 

Think critically about how each question brings you to your goal. If you’re going to ask a question, it needs to tie directly to your core goal. If you’re struggling to make this connection, consider skipping the question.

2. Design with flair

Although looks aren’t everything, a well-branded and well-designed survey performs better. 98% of Typeform customers say our product helps them look more professional.* Respondents trust you with information; well-designed surveys help build that trust. 

Imagine you buy a new shirt from your favorite store. After checkout, you’re routed to a survey but it looks nothing like the rest of the store’s website. You might hesitate to share your feedback. However, a well-branded survey creates a seamless transition, so you don’t need to second guess whether you should trust the survey or not.

Typeforms are HIPAA-, PCI-, and GDPR-compliant, so they’re as trustworthy as they look. Our platform also supports brand kits so you can create a positive customer experience for every respondent. 

3. Keep survey-takers in the loop

Write a proper survey introduction to answer respondent questions upfront. The introduction should clarify:

  • Who’s conducting the survey

  • What they want to do with the survey 

  • How long the survey will take 

  • If answers are kept anonymous 

  • Any other relevant instructions

4. Think about your demographic

You can slice society into tiny fractions with demographic survey questions. There’s gender, profession, age, location, even favorite sports teams. These are often useful—but don’t ignore behavior. Would you ask a vegan how they marinate their sirloin steak? Nope, so keep important details like that in mind when you design your survey.

5. Keep the language human

Ditch the jargon. Don’t force your readers to spend precious brain power doing your job for you—use a conversational tone and keep things simple. You want them to absorb the topic easily and use their time to think about their answer.

The more you speak like a human instead of an academic textbook, the better your chances are to take people from Start to Submit.

6. Use qualifying questions

One of the best ways to start a survey is to employ qualifying questions. You want to make sure everyone you ask can give you useful information. 

Let’s say you run an online art supply store and you want to know how often people change their brushes. A necessary screening question would be, “How often do you paint?” If the answer is never, then this isn’t a person whose experiences can help you here.

Remember the demographic you’re interested in learning from. Then, use qualifying questions to filter out people who aren’t able to give you the information you need.

7. Remember to test

Testing your survey is vital. But don’t just ask your colleagues—ask regular people you know, like your friends and family. If your friends and family don’t fully understand the questions or get confused by a lack of context, real participants will likely feel the same way.

8. Try open- and close-ended questions

Think about how you plan to use this survey data. If you plan to make graphs, charts, or infographics that people can quickly see and absorb, ask closed questions to gather quantitative data (clear numerical information).

If you want to gather qualitative data about people’s opinions, experiences, and beliefs, offer open-ended survey questions. Remember, these will take respondents longer to answer than closed questions, so you'll need to factor that in when designing the survey. Both qualitative and quantitative research have their place—typically, surveys gather a bit of both.

Open-ended questions Close-ended questions
  • Better for gathering qualitative data
  • Responses demonstrate people's opinions, experiences, and beliefs
  • Better for gathering quantitative data
  • Responses can be used in graphs, charts, or infographics
  • 9. Keep it quick

    People are busy—no one wants to waste half an hour responding to your survey if they’re not getting anything in return. Keep your survey as short and simple as possible without sacrificing the amount of data you can gather. Forms that take less than a minute to complete have a completion rate that's 15 percentage points higher on average. As we previously recommended, reverse engineer your survey based on the data you need to keep your survey from getting too long.

    10. Experiment with other question types

    The answers to surveys aren’t always just yes or no. Maybe you want to ask how comfy the hotel beds were on a scale. Or you want to find out what fruit your customers buy every week. You can use Likert scales or multiple choice questions to get a range of responses. However you decide to approach a question, make sure all the answers are available.

    11. Ask specific questions

    “What’s the best vegetable?”

    What does “best” mean? The tastiest? The easiest to cook with? The most colorful? The most nutritious?

    When it comes to surveys, specificity is king. Otherwise, people won’t know what to answer, get bored, and your data will suffer. If you’re interested in all of those four elements of what makes a great vegetable, then ask them four separate questions.

    Likewise, you want to avoid asking multiple questions in one go. If you ask, “What is the most interesting and exciting film ever?” then your readers are going to want to put two answers down. So either ask those two questions separately or pick one and stick with it.

    12. Personalize surveys when possible

    Personalized surveys create an elevated experience, encouraging users to complete your survey. Typeforms use conditional and skip logic so you can route respondents to more relevant questions. For example, if a respondent says they don’t like cereal, then you can skip asking them how much they spend on cereal each month.

    You can also refer back to previous answers, calling respondents by name and creating a dynamic, conversational survey. Everyone wins in this situation—users get a better experience, and you gather more specific data.

    13. Don't ask loaded questions

    You’re not squeezing answers out of a mobster in an interrogation room. You’re speaking to people who have volunteered their time to answer questions. So don’t trick people into giving you the answers you want.

    A simple way to reduce survey bias is to avoid using assumptive, leading questions. If you ask, “How many goals will Springfield FC win by this weekend?” there will probably be people who don’t think they’ll win at all. But here you’ve left them with no option but to agree that they’ll win. Instead, ask, "What will the score of the game be?”

    14. Think about the order of your questions

    Once you have your list of questions selected, it’s time to start asking.

    Or not. 

    You can’t just throw a randomized list of questions at people. The structure is important, too.

    Start with your screening questions, because there’s no point in making someone sit through a questionnaire only to be rejected at the end. It’s just nice to do.

    Effective survey design orders questions from general to specific. The initial questions should get the readers into the right frame of mind—they should be thinking about the topic at hand. Don’t throw them into the deep end with an ultra-specific set of questions they’re not ready for yet.

    All in all, there should be a logical flow to questions. Questions on the same topic should be kept together. It’s better to leave open-ended questions to the end. By this point, your respondent will have been thinking about the topic at hand for a few minutes, so you can expect better-quality answers.

    15. Plan your debrief

    The goal of a survey is to gather data—but you also need to know what to do with it. Once you deploy your survey, take a look at drop-off and completion rates. With this information, you can tweak your survey and do some A/B testing to see how it can be more engaging. Typeform even features AI tools to provide helpful hints about what improvements may have the most impact.

    If you’re already working with certain data analysis tools, you might find them among Typeform’s 120+ integrations. These integrations help you further organize and interpret data or even trigger workflows based on responses.

    Survey design done—now what?

    Once you’ve perfected your survey design, you’re ready to set it free. Your first survey might not be perfect, but every one you create is a learning experience. 

    With Typeform, creating that first survey is easy and effective. Our form builder guides you through the process, helping you create optimized surveys and a superior respondent experience.

    *This data comes from internal Typeform users polled.

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