3 Rules For Writing Good Survey Questions

By Tonya Vinas, Senior Editor, Content4Demand

Good surveys can produce great content, but surveys themselves are a type of content and so require the same attention to language and writing.

searchUsually, a marketing team will believe something is true based on customer feedback and sales insight and want a survey to verify the knowledge and serve as a launching pad for a content tract on the topic. Something like, “Employee wellness programs are good for business.”

Let’s assume we’ve landed on this topic and don’t need to ask any demographic questions because we’ve pre-qualified the survey pool. Where do we start?

These three rules provide a good foundation to begin.

1. Start at the finish line: Generally identify the topics of the resulting content pieces. A good way to do this is with a placeholder headline such as: “Employee Wellness Programs Reduce Costs.” This gives you some guidance on what you need to measure and therefore, ask: i.e., How has your company benefited from having a wellness program? Choose all that apply. a. Less Turnover, b. Higher Productivity, c. Lower Health Insurance Costs, and d. Fewer Absences.

The next placeholder headline might be a deeper diver: “Wellness Programs Reduce Turnover.” Now you have more questions to ask: What are your top three workforce challenges (turnover would be one of the choices)? What was your employee turnover in the past 12 months? What was it in the 12 months prior to having a wellness program? What is your average turnover cost per position?

Move on to another sub-topic, and another, and soon you’ll have a batch of questions to consider for the final survey. The questions don’t have to be perfectly written yet. The language and grammar can be refined once you’ve narrowed down your list to the final questions.

2. Build in redundancy for verification: These days, it’s easy to think something is happening when in fact it might not be. Just because a topic is trending on social media doesn’t mean it’s an actual trend that translates into better sales or profits.

One way to check foundational assumptions is to ask the same question in different ways. This takes some skill with language but if you are working from a premise that must be quantified, it’s a good idea to quantify it more than once. For example, you could take the attrition question in a different direction and ask, Based on your employee satisfaction surveys, what are the top three non-compensation benefits that long-term employees value most (wellness programs would be one of the choices)?

3. Get out of your own head: Survey questions need to be written for maximum clarity and inclusiveness. Using jargon, trademarked names and business catch phrases can work against you. You can always explain your company’s differentiators in the content-tract pieces, which will be more targeted and specifically branded. To get there though, you’ll need a wide dock to take in the content raw materials, which are the survey responses. Don’t narrow the opening with unfamiliar language.

Getting survey questions right is a precursor to creating great content from survey results. Keep the end in mind, verify critical assumptions with redundancy and use welcoming, familiar language. Following these three rules is a great start to a great survey.


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