Designing the Perfect Research Survey: Do’s and Don’ts

Image by Andreas Breitling from Pixabay

For students, researchers, and businesses alike, a research survey is an essential tool to gain feedback and information. However, the data is only useful if it reflects the actual opinions of your respondents, without any sort of limits. Asking the right questions to get full responses is more complicated than it looks at first glance, as every individual is different, and making sure to accommodate that is essential.

Everything from the language you use to the question types you employ affects how the customer responds and the overall look of the feedback. Items that seem straightforward to you may be complicated to others and must contain tact and sensitivity when seeking personal information. You don’t want to offend your survey takers, or tire them so much they don’t want to complete it.

Here are four things you should and four things you shouldn’t do when crafting the perfect research survey and aiming for accurate, helpful results.


1. Put more than one query into the same question.

Yes, it’s important not to have too many questions so as not to bore your respondents, but asking multiple issues at once confuses both the survey-taker and the results provided. For example, asking, “how likely are you to visit again or recommend a friend to visit?”, you may get an answer to one, the other, or both of these questions – with no real way to check for sure.

2. Forget about or dismiss psychographics

The “why” of how consumers and survey takers behave is just as important as the “how.” Knowing more about needs and personalities gives you a deeper connection to your clients/market/subjects, and allows you to see where they fit on a grander scale.

3. Neglect to test your survey first

By using a small test group, you’ll be able to see if your questions generate the kind of responses you need. It will also ensure the survey only lasts the recommended 5-10 minutes that will prevent the risk of survey fatigue. As well, it will help you catch confusing areas or any mistakes.

4. Underestimate the power of bias

The order of questions in your survey will skew the results, even if you do not think so. A person asked to rate two things out of ten will base their rating for the second on what they gave the first. One solution is to randomize survey questions so that each respondent receives them in a different order.


1. Make use of scales whenever you can

Don’t rely on just yes or no – find out how strongly the person feels about this response, or whether they care at all. Someone who “strongly agrees” is much more impactful than “slightly agrees,” and “strong disagreement” is a vital indicator of a broader issue.

2. Avoid too many open-ended questions

Yes, qualitative data can be valuable, but actionable results require quantitative data. As well, too many open items result in fatigue. Try to avoid overly-generic issues, also, such as “how can we improve”? There will be so many different answers that the data will be near meaningless, and the expectations of the respondents will be far too high.

3. Make sure your language is clear and understandable

It doesn’t matter how educated your target audience is – when it comes to surveys, direct and straightforward communication is the best approach to avoid any confusion whatsoever when gathering data.

4. Think about exporting and reporting the data before you do it!

Results might answer this part for you, but you’ll want your surveys set up expressly to analyze in a particular way. Each question should contribute to the analysis you want to apply.

Following these tips will take a mediocre survey into something that will get you precisely what you need, and fast!