Survey research is a quick and effective way to gain actionable business insights. Whether you want to learn more about your target audience, test new product or service concepts, or evaluate perceptions of your brand, a well-designed survey can deliver the answers you need.

While survey design seems simple, content and format choices can significantly impact your respondent’s answers to the survey. Here are four easy tips to improve the survey experience and ensure the reliability of your data.

1. Simplify survey wording

Did you know that most Americans read English at an 8th-grade level? Using clear and simple content helps respondents better understand the questions you are asking. Making survey content accessible to as many respondents as possible helps you gain insights without excluding valuable perspectives. The readability of survey text can easily be evaluated using Microsoft Word.

2. Avoid double-barreled questions

Double-barrelled questions have two separate questions in one statement. They are a common mistake in survey writing because we use them so often in our everyday conversations. Unfortunately, a question like “How often do you diet and exercise?” doesn’t translate very well to written surveys. If a respondent exercises frequently, but never diets, their response won’t accurately capture their behavior. Luckily, this is an easy fix! Separating these questions allows respondents to answer accurately. And it makes it easier for you, as the researcher, to analyze and interpret results.

3. Clarify the meaning of terms

Terms like “frequently”, “a lot”, or “most” can be interpreted differently depending on the question content or different respondents may interpret the meaning differently. Clarifying the meaning of questions (“most of the time”, “almost none”) can avoid confusion and help simplify respondents’ answers.

Scaled responses (like the one seen below) provides a logical context for your question.

  • How often do you exercise?
  • Very Frequently
  • Frequently
  • Somewhat Frequently
  • Neither Frequently Nor Infrequently
  • Somewhat Infrequently
  • Infrequently
  • Very Infrequently

This helps respondents to take the guesswork out of their answers and helps to avoid unreliable survey data.

4. Give your respondents an out!

Some respondents may skip questions if they are unsure of the answer. Even worse, they may choose an answer at random so they don’t leave questions blank. Providing options like “Not Sure”, “I don’t know”, or “Can’t Remember” gives survey takers the opportunity to respond honestly, without skewing your data. For multiple choice questions, you can also include options like “Other: Please specify” so respondents can offer their own answers.