A simple guide to setting survey questions

How to ask the right questions for your next survey

Blue question mark on a pink background
Credit: Unsplash.com

Asking good questions can elevate any research endeavour. From your overarching research questions to the specific survey or interview questions you ask, attention must be given to how these questions are chosen, worded, presented, and ordered.

Pew Research Center says “accurate random sampling will be wasted if the information gathered is built on a shaky foundation of ambiguous or biased questions. Creating good measures involves both writing good questions and organizing them to form the questionnaire.”

How do we ask the right questions in our surveys?

(This article will only focus on setting questions for surveys. To learn more about surveys, kindly look out for the resources linked at the end of this article.)

The first step to setting the right questions is establishing your research objectives. I talk about setting research objectives here and let that be your starting point.

Once you have set your objectives, they will determine whether a survey is a good choice for your research. If you are after more quantitative data, then surveys may be just right for you.

To make this practical, here is an example of research objectives. Let’s say they are for a new product we’re working on.


1. To learn about the number of (active) bank accounts people own.

2. To learn how often each is used

Once your objectives have shown that you need a survey, you can move on to setting the questions that make up your survey.

Each question you ask must link back to a research objective. Nikki Anderson says “Your questions should be able to give you insights that answer your objectives. So when you ask a participant a question, it is ultimately answering one of the objectives.” This is how to set questions.

Diagram showing a research problem branching out to 3 separate objectives and each objective having 3 questions underneath it.
Source: Nikki Anderson

If you are asking questions that aren’t linked to an objective, then you are most likely on the path to gathering data that will not be useful to you.

To set the questions, start with one objective. Write it out, then write down questions that will provide answers that can inform that objective.

If you are working with a team, you can have all members write down at least one question per objective, and then the team (or team lead) decides what questions are most relevant and which ones can be set aside. If you are working alone, you can also attempt to write down as many questions as you can think of, before weeding out the ones that don’t fit.

Objective 1: To learn about the number of active bank accounts people have.


1. How many bank accounts do you have?

a. 1–2

b. 3–4

c. 5 and above

(There is no ‘0’ here because the survey is targeted at respondents with a bank account. This can be stated at the beginning of the survey or in the caption if it is shared online. This way we will not need to cater for people without bank accounts.)

2. How many of these accounts have you used in the last 3 months?

a. 1–2

b. 3–4

c. 5 and above

(This question is to see how many of the respondent’s accounts are active. We could simply ask “how many of your accounts are active” but the respondent may not necessarily know what “active” means to you. It could mean something else to them. Ensure your questions are always clear and easy to understand.)

Objective 2: To learn how often each account is used


1. What bank account(s) do you use for day-to-day transactions? Kindly insert name of bank(s).

(This can be left as an open-ended question so users can type in the name of whatever bank they use. We need to ask this to serve as a guide for the questions that come after it.)

2. How often do you make transfers with this account?

a. Multiple times a day

b. Once or twice a day

c. A few times a week (2–6 times)

d. Other……kindly specify

3. How often do you receive transfers with this account?

a. Multiple times a day

b. Once or twice a day

c. A few times a week (2–6 times)

d. Other……kindly specify

4. What account do you use most, after the one mentioned earlier? Kindly skip if not applicable.

(Another open-ended question. Again, we are trying to establish how often the users’ bank accounts are used. This question cannot be made compulsory or required as some users may have already said they use just one bank account. Always ensure that you keep all possible respondents in mind as you design your survey.)

At this point, we can ask how often they carry out transactions on this account just like we asked earlier.

Notice that I did not simply ask “how often do you use your bank accounts?” That’s because the question is 1) too vague 2) subject to multiple interpretations or 3) will require the user to do a lot of typing which can easily get overwhelming. Break down questions and use as many close-ended questions as you can.

You want to make answering your survey as easy as you can to ensure respondents are not frustrated and are able to finish it. This article on the UX of Forms will guide you to ensure your respondents leave your survey feeling satisfied and even happy.

There are essential guidelines you must keep in mind to avoid gathering what Erika Hall describes as “garbage data”. Some of these have been discussed in this article on using surveys.

Ultimately, you want to avoid asking leading questions or questions that can pull out certain biases such as acquiescence bias (acquiescence bias is the tendency for respondents to agree with you or your questions even when this agreement may not be an honest response to the question). Questions like “Do you believe this solution is a great one?” Most people will answer “yes” or “maybe” to that and that data may be false and misleading.

To get better at asking questions, ask questions. Practice setting up surveys and asking questions based on your objectives.

Just like interviews, it is usually best to begin with simple questions that help the respondents ease into the survey. You can begin with questions like their name, age, occupation etc. But you should only request this information if it is needed. Do not simply ask because you can.

After these, you can ask the questions you set earlier from the objectives. Ensure that they are well ordered so that the knowledge of one question does not affect the response of another.

Remember to thank your respondents at the end of the survey!

If you’ve got questions, kindly leave a comment and I’ll be happy to provide more clarity!

This is all you need to know to conduct a UX Survey

Elevate your research objectives

On Surveys

Survey’s Up!

When not to use surveys as a primary research tool

Writing Survey Questions

A guide to designing forms that do not frustrate your users

Read the full article here

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