Ask the right questions, get the right answers: Week 1 - Where do you start?

A series of easy-to-digest tips on questionnaire writing.


So you’ve decided you want to carry out a survey. You have a good idea of what you want to know and you’ve got your list of customers just waiting to tell you what they think. You sit down to write your questionnaire and…well how do you even start?

The questionnaire is your key survey tool, the means by which customers will give you the information you want to know. Writing a good one is, therefore, absolutely critical to the success of your survey. A good questionnaire will:

  • Engage your customers so they want to complete the survey
  • Be an enjoyable experience that strengthens your customer relationships
  • And, of course, tell you exactly what you need to know.

So many surveys fail to meet all three criteria. Have you ever sat down to complete a survey only to be presented with a list of questions that just goes on and on and offer options that don’t cover the answer you want to give? When presented with a survey like this what do you do? I’m betting many of us would just close the survey, or some of us might find ourselves just clicking anything to get past the question?

The former is disappointing for the company running the survey and means they might not get as many responses as they need. The latter could be disastrous as it could lead to key business decisions being based on data that isn’t accurate. Either way, customers are not going to feel enamoured with the brand and there is a risk relationships may be damaged.

I don’t want you to be that company. I want you to be the company who gets a fantastic level of response to their interesting survey, which increases the engagement and loyalty they have from their customers. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing my experience in a series of tips for ensuring the validity and reliability of your surveys, and improving the participant experience to strengthen those brand relationships.

Putting pen to paper

Week 1 starts at the beginning (it’s a very good place to start). You should, at this stage, have clear research objectives set out and know what you’re trying to find out. Before you start writing questions, it helps to work up a bullet point list of what you want to cover:

  • Start with the very broad topic areas you want to cover. For example, experience of purchase might be one group of questions, opinions on the product could be another. You might want to include some questions on their views on your brand. And you might want to include some basic demographic questions (gender, age etc.) so you can see who your customers are and whether there are differences in their opinions between different groups.
  • Work out a basic order for these questions. We will cover this in later blogs but suffice to say it should make logical sense and flow well when you read it through.
  • Then work up a list of bullet points under each heading of what you want to ask about each. For example, under experience of purchase you might want to know their opinions on the ease of placing the order, the delivery experience, and perhaps how well you dealt with any queries they had. Again, make sure these appear in a logical order to help the participant as they think back to their experience.
  • Finally, you are ready to start crafting your questions. You will probably end up with one for each of your bullet points, but some may take two or three to answer well.

By putting in the preparation work upfront you should find you end up with a questionnaire that has a better structure and flow than if you had just launched into writing the questions straight away.

Next time we will be looking at optimal questionnaire structures. Follow me on Twitter or add this blog to your RSS feed to make sure you don’t miss it! And if you have any questions or anything you’d like me to cover in this series please send me a message via the “Contact us” page of this website.

If you feel you need a bit of support I offer questionnaire writing services, or if you’d like to write your own I am happy to review it for you and give advice on any improvements. Please contact me for more information.