In surveys, language is everything. Composing survey questions with a universal meaning that is clear to respondents is of paramount importance. This ensures that respondents interpret the questions correctly. By understanding the common pitfalls associated with the wording of survey questions, you will be better prepared to recognize bad questions and ensure they are removed from your question set.
Some of the types of questions that do not belong on your survey are:
When strong language (e.g. always, never, etc.) is used in a survey, respondents may be biased to answer in the converse and/or it may restrict the potential for respondents to use the entire range of the survey rating scale. For example the question: “I can always get in touch with an account representative in a timely manner,” will produce few—if any—respondents indicating a strong level of agreement. This type of question produces compression in the data set.
Survey questions should focus on one construct, or topic, at a time. Questions that fail do to this are called “double-barreled”, meaning they ask about multiple constructs in one question. For example the question: “I have good opportunities for pay raises and promotions,” will provide answers that lack clarity. Perhaps there are good opportunities for promotions, but these promotions come without pay increases.
Survey questions should be clearly and sharply worded. The question should also ensure that targeted action can be undertaken in response to the question at hand. For example, the question: “Communication at work is good,” does not specifically address the source or direction of communication. As a result, if the question is less than 100% positive, it is impossible to know what elements of communication should be improved upon.
A good survey question is one that is direct and to the point. For example, the question: “Thinking over my entire experience with the company, I would say the company has a good focus on customers,” could be phrased much more simply and elegantly as, “Customer service is good.” Wordy questions can confuse respondents, reduce the quality of answers received, and reduce response rates.
While it may be tempting to use questions to communicate core values to employees or customers, it can alienate respondents. The survey is an opportunity to gauge customer, employee, or market perceptions about the company, not to tell respondents what you hope their perceptions ought to be. For example: “I exemplify the core value of Responsiveness by addressing customer requests within 24 hours.”
A series of negatively phrased questions can implant undesirable thoughts and perceptions about an organization. For example, the question: “Workloads at our Company are excessive,” can cause respondents to reconsider their opinions about workloads and begin to see negativity where there was previously none.
Survey questions may appear straightforward, but as you can see, the process of arriving at ‘simple’ questions can be complex. NBRI’s expertise in the design of survey questions makes the process painless.