7 proven practical tips for creating your next questionnaire

event registration form with payment

You are probably familiar with the situation where you need a questionnaire to gather feedback and gain insights for improvement measures.

But what’s the best way to go about developing a questionnaire? What questions should your survey contain? And how do you design an appealing questionnaire that achieves its goal and also achieves a maximum participation rate? I’ll give you a few tips in this article.

Tip 1: How to define the target group and survey goal

Before you start developing the first question, sit down and determine the goal of the questionnaire. What do you want to achieve with the survey? If you don’t define a goal at the beginning, you won’t reach your goal. Sounds trite, but it’s true.

Basically, you have two target audiences to which you can direct the questionnaire development:

  • Surveys in the company. These can be organizational surveys (such as for event attendance) or evaluations of employee satisfaction, internal communications, or 360-degree feedback for managers.
  • In the area of customers, there is a widespread definition: are they end customers, business customers, or future customers? Furthermore, market research is a separate, large subfield of the customer survey.

Now, it’s not enough to decide on a target audience and get started. For example, if you now choose “customers” as your target audience, then you need a more precise specification for a well-founded survey. Paint a picture of the people you want to survey!

Tip 2: How to formulate good questions for the questionnaire

With a few simple rules and tips, you can formulate questions for your questionnaire that will be quickly grasped by your survey participants. Comprehensible questions make it easier to answer the questionnaire and thus also increase the completion rate.

  • Don’t include word monsters: “We would like to conduct a customer satisfaction analysis with you.” The eye can’t grasp these giant letter formations and the reading flow falters. You’re better off writing “Customer satisfaction is important to us.” The reading flow is much easier and the wording is more charming.
  • Avoid foreign words: Even if you think you’re using common words: Your survey respondent may not be familiar with them. And he won’t google for them. Avoid them if possible.
  • No negations or leading questions: “Don’t you think the ordering process could be optimized?” If you formulate what you yourself see as in need of optimization in a negative way, your participant will also see it as negative. Especially since you have already put the answer directly into his mouth with the question. Stay neutral with the question: “Which areas in the ordering process could be optimized?”
  • To the point: Avoid long and convoluted sentences in the question. Don’t try to fit all the information into one question. In the worst case, the question will extend over several lines. Keep your question short and to the point, if necessary use a second sentence. If you have to explain your question in several sentences, then check it again fundamentally.
  • Communicate at eye level: Do not formulate from above. Communicate with the participants in the questionnaire at eye level. No one likes to be patronized.
  • Avoid internal terms or empty phrases: Remember that you are not sitting next to the participant while he or she is filling out the questionnaire. As with foreign words, internal terms or phrases have no place in a customer survey. In employee surveys, internal terms may be used as long as colleagues are familiar with them.

Always ask yourself if your participants can understand the question. Proper use of text and phrasing will help you ensure that many respondents complete your survey and do so as completely as possible.

Pay attention to the style of writing. If you practice a relaxed working atmosphere, it is a good idea to write the survey in the same style.

Stay authentic at this point and continue your communication style: You have a “you” culture in your company from the cleaners to the CEO? Then it would seem strange to your employees if you suddenly addressed them in the survey, wouldn’t it?

In a customer survey, things can look quite different. Perhaps you use the polite “you” in web and print? Then stick to that in the survey, too.

Otherwise, your survey participants will recognize who the questionnaire is from, but they won’t associate your company with it.

Or can you imagine a hip start-up designing its questionnaire in the writing style of a bank?

Tip 3: How to put your questions in a meaningful order

It is in our nature to want to achieve a perfect result from the very beginning, and this also applies to the creation of the questionnaire. However, this will hinder you in the questionnaire design, or bring you to a standstill again and again. There are two ways to proceed with the questionnaire development:

  • Just write it, then sort it.
  • You ask questions about a concrete process or procedure, then also orientate yourself on this procedure in your survey.

To begin with, I recommend that you simply write down all the questions that come to mind. Then you have an overview of the individual topics that are important to you.

Sort your questions thematically into blocks. Put these topic blocks in a meaningful order:

Work with simple questions, at the beginning of your questionnaire. Use simple (click) questions that ask about the target audience.

For example, for an employee survey, the department, location, length of service, position, etc.

In a customer survey, you would ask for a few personal details. This gives you valuable data at the beginning so that you can later filter the results according to these criteria.

Market research is an exception. In this area, it has proven optimal to ask for demographic data at the end.

  • Check for duplicates:

Once you have the questions sorted, start checking for duplicate content. Delete these questions or merge them with existing ones.

Now you have a good structure in your questionnaire. If you now go through it once, you will feel whether additional questions are still missing at one point or another in order to achieve your survey goal.

Tip 4: How to make questions more specific

Let’s continue with the example of optimizing the ordering process in the furniture online store. Here we have a precisely defined survey topic. Now we need the appropriate questions. Actually, it’s quite simple now, isn’t it?

You want to find out how the ordering process was, so you ask:

The good thing about this method:

You get straight to the point and the question fits your objective exactly.
You have a very short survey.

So you put your survey online and wait. Then, after a few days, you pull your results.

You are now facing some problems that this simple method has opened up:

  • The processing will be very time-consuming for you! Because the answers are varied and unstructured! From a simple “Good!” to a simple “OK”. From further payment requests to a complaint in the form of a short novel.
  • Many customers are lazy about writing: Your customers may have experienced problems, but don’t take the time to write them out. Or they are already annoyed because the order was bumpy. It’s often too much to ask them to write about it at length.
  • You are missing details: Try to optimize your order process now. It’s going to be a bit difficult, isn’t it? To get meaningful results, you need more detailed feedback. Even if a customer has taken the time to respond, what action do you take if you don’t know what exactly was “grotty”?

And therein lies the key to planning your survey.

Your solution path:

  • Start from the back: Think about what results in you need to derive action from the feedback you get from your survey. Only these questions should be included in the questionnaire.
  • Choose questions and answers that accompany the ordering process: In order to optimize the ordering process from the initial contact to the completion of the order, you must query the individual steps in the course of the order and put them to the test.

In our example, let’s try to flesh out the question “How did you feel about the ordering process?” and guide the customer through all the steps, from search to purchase, with answer options to help them complete the survey:

How did you find out about (product XY)?

( ) I searched online specifically for this product
( ) The product was shown to me when I visited www.website.de
( ) I specifically searched for it on www.website.de

Did the product description provide you with all the information you needed to make a purchase decision?
( ) Yes
( ) No. I would have liked the following additional information:

Were you able to quickly find and select the right product variant in the online store?
( ) Yes
( ) No, because ____________________

You had to create a customer account to place an order.
Would you have liked to place an order as a guest?
( ) Yes
( ) No

Which payment method did you choose?

Would you like to have other payment methods? If yes, which ones

Are you satisfied with the delivery time of 2–3 business days?

As you can see, with targeted questions you get more and more detailed feedback, on the basis of which you can make decisions for optimization.

Of course, you need to think about the right answer options for your situation. You might also split questions and work with branching questions to make the questionnaire clearer.

Tip 5: How to use follow-up questions correctly

Let’s say you’ve made the decision internally to conduct an employee survey to determine satisfaction among individual employees. With the questionnaire, you want to find out where improvements can be made in the workplace or in internal processes.

By asking questions, you directly address the needs of employees and offer improvements that contribute to satisfaction. But can you use the results to derive concrete measures? No.

You get a percentage distribution of how many employees would like to see better technical equipment, but you don’t get any concrete details about what can/should be improved.

You can choose between two ways to specify your question in order to be able to initiate measures after the survey:

You ask a follow-up question to each of the above answer options, which is only displayed if the participant answers the corresponding.

If you know that all of the answer options will be relevant to the majority of employees, then split the question. Each answer option becomes a separate question where you specifically address opportunities for improvement.

You can also choose a combination of these variants and your follow-up question can specify concrete answer options. This way you can evaluate the survey results better than with an open question.

Tip 6: How to find the right questionnaire length

When planning your survey, you’ll quickly find that your questionnaire becomes very long because you can think of a hundred things you want feedback on. Great in theory, but keep in mind that the patience of the participants is not infinite. The perfect questionnaire length depends on several factors.

The most important factor is the “bond” of the participant to your company. The higher the bond, the more you can expect from the participant:

  • For an employee survey, where retention is high, the questionnaire can be longer and more complex.
  • However, if you’re conducting a survey of potential customers via social media channels, you can’t expect participants to take a 30-minute survey. You wouldn’t do that yourself.

We humans learn very quickly. If we are invited to an employee survey today and go through it, we know the scope. When we receive another invitation to take part in the survey in a month’s time, we will think about the last survey and the “effort” that went into it. Thus, the participation rate will decrease from time to time.

It is better if you always keep the willingness to participate at a high level. An important point is the length of the questionnaire. If it has been internalized that participation is simple and quick, colleagues will gladly take part in subsequent surveys.

Sometimes, however, there is simply no way around making your questionnaire a little longer so that you can draw usable results from it. Here I have 3 methods for you, how you can help yourself in this situation. This way you can create a somewhat longer questionnaire and still keep the dropout rate low.

If you make your online survey lively, you will increase the visitor’s attention and dwell time. Therefore, use different types of questions. You will keep the attention high if you alternate different question types when developing the survey. Using the same question type over and over again will quickly tire the participant.

Images are another way to place varied content in the survey. If you’re using a questionnaire as a contact form to offer support, the first question:

“How can we help you?”

Now you can simply type the answers as text, or you can use picture questions to visualize the possibilities. This makes your questionnaire look more lively and surprises the participant.

With a simple trick you can shorten your questionnaire or add another additional question without changing the length: Give yourself already known information in the survey link.

For example, at the end of the survey, you want to see which of your customers gave which feedback. Since you have the customer number, you can pass it with the survey link and don’t have to ask for it again.

With different mechanisms like URL parameters & variables, or multi-links, HeyForm offers the possibility to set information in the survey link that shortens the questionnaire.

Tip 7: How to define mandatory questions in the questionnaire

With your questionnaire, you want to get as much feedback as possible and you want every participant to answer every question. The option of mandatory questions comes in handy. Even though it is tempting to set every question as a mandatory question, you should use this option wisely.

If you customize the questionnaire flow with filters, jumps, or logic, you have to activate the mandatory question option for the filter questions. Otherwise, no individual course can take place

It is recommended to set certain questions as mandatory questions, with which you want to evaluate the results later. For example, in an employee survey: Here, the question about department affiliation should be a mandatory question, so that you can later evaluate the result cleanly based on these answers.

Depending on the topic of the questionnaire, there may be one or more questions that form the absolute core of the survey. These questions should also be answered. Here it is in your interest to set them as mandatory questions.

  • When selecting mandatory questions, put yourself in the perspective of the participant.

Every compulsory question must be answered. If the participant can’t or doesn’t want to give any information, he or she will or must stop the survey at this point and you will lose feedback.

  • From a psychological point of view, it can make sense to set many mandatory questions.

This is done so that each question is perceived as “active”. In this case, however, you should offer an option in many cases that the participant can continue the questionnaire even without “answering”.

For this purpose, there is the “No answer” button. This allows to answer the question technically, but without the participant having to give an answer.

Conclusion: Use the right methods for questionnaire development

With the right methods in mind, planning a good survey is not that difficult. Admittedly, such a survey is somewhat time-consuming, but by using HeyForm, you can save a lot of time when evaluating the survey.

You should not rush the planning. Thoroughness and accuracy are required here. And the self-discipline to limit yourself sometimes and to do without one or the other question.

This is the only way to ensure that your questionnaire has an appropriate response rate and that you can derive important insights and improvements.

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