9 Steps To Build Questions for a Survey

Survey says?
Survey says?

Preparing questions for a survey is a daunting task.  What should you ask and why? Should the questions rate answers on a scale, or be open ended? How many should you have?

As with most things here on The Expert Generalist, I know a little about a lot. Building survey questions is a sophisticated science.  TEG is in short supply of sophisticated science.  Instead you get a few real world lessons.

Step 1.  Ask for help.
Find another company that pulls off surveys for content marketing and ask them for help. Billy Purser, VP of Marketing for DigitalSmiths, kindly shared his advice with me.

Step 2. Choose a survey tool.
SurveyMonkey not only provides a great survey tool to build the questions, they also provide the ability to reach their Survey Audience.  You can purchase additional survey responses from people across the country who volunteer to take surveys in exchange for donations to charity.

Step 3. Know Your Unknowns.
Write down all of the unknowns for which you seek answers.  This will be the foundation of your questions. Here are a few examples:

  • When do you use the product?
  • Why do you use the product?
  • How do you use the product?
  • What other products do you use?  Why?
  • Where do you use the product?
  • What’s the biggest frustration you have with XYZ?
  • Who are you?

Step 4. Write down your answer choices to your questions.
I prefer multiple choice, instead of ratings, for surveys intended for content marketing.  List as many as relevant, while also providing an open text box for “Other”.  You’ll use these “other” responses for future surveys to improve your list of answer choices.

Step 5. Exclude the Unqualified.
The very first question in our survey asked “Do you use a news app?”.  YES people continued with the survey. NO people got the boot.

Step 6. Know Why You Want the Answer To Every Question.
If you can’t do anything with the answers you get, don’t ask the question.

Step 7. Cut out your less impactful questions.  
Quality, not quantity.  People will abandon your survey if it’s too long.

Step 8.  Take the survey yourself.
Time yourself.  Make edits.

Step 9. Share the survey with a few friendlies.  
Ask them to evaluate the questions based upon criteria, listed in order of importance.  Hey Josh, can you review this survey?  Pay attention to these elements, which I’ve listed in priority.

  • What can I do to improve the “understandability” of the questions?
  • What other answer choices should I have listed?
  • Was the survey too long?
  • Any typos?

Include those suggestions as you see fit.

Here’s where the rubber meets the road.  Here’s a link to my previous survey. You’ll see how each question is built, and the answer choices.  You do have to take the survey to view the questions.  If you want to see the finished product instead, grab the PDF here.




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