Online Survey Questions: Things To Watch Out For When Creating Your First Online Survey

Online Survey Questions: Things To Watch Out For When Creating Your First Online Survey

Asking questions in an online survey is not the same as asking questions offline. In a normal conversation or face-to-face survey interview, you can always clarify a question or ask it differently if the person you are talking to seems to not get it. The respondent will talk back if there’s something in your question that is not clear. And you can tell if you are making headway by just looking at the person’s body language. You will be talking, not just asking questions.

Not in an online survey. Here it is a one-chance thing. A hit or a miss.

That means that every question has to be clear, to the point, and easy to understand - and not to you, but to the other person. The questions must also not be too many or too few, and you should avoid being irritating or boring in any way. And, preferably, you have to do all this correctly the first time, all so you can reach this one person who does not know you, has no time to spare, and probably doesn’t care about what you think is important.

Considering how often people misunderstand each other already in normal conversations, the troubles with this is no surprise. But you can get yourself a head start by checking out the following three points.

There Are Two Types of Survey Questions

There are open questions and there are closed questions. Open questions leave it to the respondent to decide what answer to give by giving them a text box to fill in. Closed questions give the respondent limited and set options of answers, whether it be checkboxes for multiple answers or radio buttons for single answers.

Since open questions are asking more from your respondents, you should try to limit using them as much as possible. If you have to ask a lot to get your qualitative data, try mixing it up with closed questions and spreading the open questions over multiple pages.

There Are Wrong Ways To Ask a Question

Here are just a few of the major questionnaire pitfalls that you should look out for.

  • Leading Questions: when the question already suggests the answer. Call it a biased question. For example: ‘How do you rate our beautiful new survey editor design?’
  • Double-Barreled Questions: when the question deals with more than one issue. For example, ‘How do you rate the design and the usability of our new survey editor?’

Other questionnaire pitfalls include asking ambiguous questions, not providing enough answer options in a multiple-choice question, and using jargon or abbreviations. You can read more pitfalls in our article 10 Common Mistakes To Avoid When Crafting Online Surveys.

There Is a Correct Ordering For Questions

The answer to a question might be influenced by the questions you asked earlier. Also, it is bad policy to ask people personal questions early on in the survey. With personal questions, think stuff like their age, marital status, income level, or education. Many find that intrusive or suspicious, and will dismiss your survey without a second look.


A good technique to ensure that your survey is good to go and doesn’t contain any of the above pitfalls, is to pre-test the actual survey before sending it out to your entire survey sample. You can do this by consulting colleagues or a small focus group of people that fit your sample, for example.

Of course, you can also always ask us. Via our Survey Creation Service you can make use of our resident survey experts, and have them take care of everything your survey involves: creating, sending, and even reporting. Perfect if you want to make it easy for yourself, or if you just want to be sure you’re doing the right thing.

Need more help straightening out your first survey, or are you unsure about your questions? Let us know; we'd be glad to help!

P.S. If you liked this article, you might also like Tips and Tricks: How to Best Construct Survey Questions, Survey Best Practices: Choosing the Right Question Type, and How To Write a Short and Effective Survey.

Jonah Njonge
Apr 04, 2014
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