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Good versus Bad Survey Questions

Posted: Sep 5, 2013

Good vs Bad Questions

You want to keep your overall survey as short as possible.  For this reason each survey question is critical.  Whether it is a good or bad question it is taking up valuable real estate and valuable time from your respondent.  Here are some ways to distinguish between good and bad survey questions.


Length is the easiest way to tell the difference between a good and bad survey question.  If it is long and takes several mins to read... guess what?  It is a bad question.  Sure there may be that rare case where a long explanation is needed - but I caution you against this.  Keep your survey questions as short as possible.  If they are too long, your respondents will loose interest and drop off.  Long paragraph style test make bad survey questions.

Leading Questions

Leading questions are those that hint at the user how they should answer a question.  These make bad survey questions because they result in inaccurate data.  Ensure that your questions are worded in a way that is free from bias and allows respondents to answer without any preconceived ideas.  Leading questions make bad survey questions.

Loaded Questions

Loaded questions are similar to leading questions but are different in one key area.  They cater to making the user feel better.  If you make a respondent feel better, they will be more likely to answer in a positive fashion.  However all you have done is altered their mood and the data you have collected is not truly valuable or accurate.  Avoid loading questions with comments or words that will make the user feel better and thus answer your survey with inaccurate data.

Simplicity is King

This might seem like a no brainer, but the minute you let a little complexity into your survey you will loose your respondents attention and the value in their data.  Most often complexity is introduced accidentally.  Most survey creators do not intend to make their surveys overly complex.  Industry jargon is a great example.  Too often jargon that has been common for you is inserted but it is not known to the audience.  This small and simple slip up causes the respondent to be confused and loose interest in your survey.

Double-Barreled Questions

Double-Barreled questions are those that split answers into two parts.  Most often this is done accidentally.  The problem this creates is that users are then confused as to how they should answer.  If the answers to both sides of the question oppose each other then they get lost and frustrated.  They quickly loose interest and often abandone the survey.

Double Negative Expressions

Do you not like this post?  Double negative questions are just confusing.  They distract the respondent and often cause them to focus on re-reading the question several times to make sure they understood it.  Double Negatives make bad survey questions and should be avoided.  After all - the simplest survey is usually the one that gets the most responses.


Avoiding bad survey questions will help you increase the quality of your data as well as the number of respondents who complete the survey.  The heart of good versus bad survey questions is at their core wording.  Are they simple and short?  Do they avoid leading and loaded statements?  Do they avoid double-barreled or double negative expressions?   These tips will help you write good survey questions and avoid bad survey questions.

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