15 Design Mistakes That Might Ruin Your Survey

What are some common sources of error when designing a survey? Here is a list of 15 things to look out for when creating a survey.

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“The best surveys ask the right question to the right people at the right time.”

Surveys are often prone to common design errors. Even the most well-intentioned researchers fall prey to these design survey mistakes and must take precautions. If a survey project is riddled with design errors, that project will suffer from inaccurate data—the same kind of data that leads most survey projects astray, causing organizations to take the wrong course of action or none at all.

15 common mistakes in survey design

Familiarize yourself with them so you can avoid creating these mistakes in your own surveys. The following list presents some of the most common errors in survey design.

1. Skipping the introduction

It is always important to provide a reason for why your survey is being conducted. Without an introduction, respondents will find the survey suspicious. An introduction to the survey helps convince visitors to complete the questionnaire.

Use the checklist below to ensure that you’ve covered everything.

survey design wh- questions

2. Failing to define the survey’s goal

Survey respondents should be informed of the goal of the survey, the expected timeframe of its completion, and how their feedback will impact decisions being made by your organization. By clearly defining these elements to survey participants, you will engage them and increase response rates while also ensuring they provide valid responses.

3. Assuming respondents know more than they do

It is common to incorrectly assume that your respondents have a level of knowledge on a topic that is equal to yours. That is why it’s called the Curse of Knowledge. This means that the more familiar you are with something, the more difficult it is to put yourself in the shoes of someone who is unfamiliar with it. The only way to ensure that you’re on the right track is to seek out new perspectives and clearly define your target audiences.

Surveys should be designed so that respondents answer based on their knowledge of the topic, and not what they think you want to hear.

Survey design good vs bad question: Assuming respondents know more than they do

4. Neglecting to proofread the content

Ensuring that your survey content is accurate and precise. If it’s riddled with errors, it will lose credibility, and most users will abandon it unfinished, costing you time and money.

Survey design good vs bad question: Neglecting to proofread the content

5. Overlapping or too many choices

When it comes to surveys and questionnaires, less is more. Providing respondents with multiple options for a specific question is generally a good idea, but providing too many options can confuse them and will only complicate matters.
You may think that surveys with plenty of options will yield more actionable information, but the truth is you will only result in lower completion rates, longer surveys, and surveys that are more difficult to analyze, all of which will provide an unclear and inaccurate picture of the market.

The goal is to keep the information that can be acted upon so that you can gather insights about your respondents without overwhelming them or yourself with data points.

Survey design good vs bad question: Overlapping or too many choices

Tips: Reducing the number of options improves survey quality. In some cases, you may need to keep a number of answers in order to obtain relevant information. Divide your question into several questions. Another way to make a survey easier for respondents is to try eliminating cognitive load through a well-designed user interface.

6. Having a survey with multiple objectives

Don’t try to hit 2 birds with 1 stone. Many businesses attempt to combine multiple objectives into a single survey, thinking that it will be more profitable for them to ask as many questions as the audience allows. That, however, is not how the survey works. Your survey should have only one goal. Incorporating more will only confuse your respondents and waste their time, which you do not want to happen.

7. Surveys that aren’t mobile-friendly

Surveys were once completed on desktop computers, but that is no longer the case.

Making your survey mobile-friendly will help engage mobile respondents and increase audience reach. To ensure more accurate representations of your respondent demographic, distribute surveys that are accessible across multiple devices.

8. Using complicated words and acronyms

Consider those who will be taking your survey when creating your survey questions. Consider cultural differences when designing your questions, and use simple language. Avoid using acronyms and technical terms that may confuse your audience. If you must use an uncommon concept, provide definitions to make it easier to understand and adapt the survey sentences to the respondents you want to have.

Survey design good vs bad question: Using complicated words and acronyms

9. Sending the survey without testing

Errors and mistakes are unavoidable, and there’s a good chance that something will need to be fixed before you send it out. That is why it is important to test it out first before sending it to a large group. At Standard Insights, all of our projects go through a 24-/48-hour testing phase in which we collect a small number of respondents and ask for feedback to check if there are any grammar errors, design issues, or connection of logic problems.

Survey design good vs bad question: Sending the survey without testing

10. Asking questions without a target audience in mind

This is pretty straightforward. You need to know who your target audience is. Knowing your respondents can help you anticipate issues of offense or distraction that could divert attention away from the survey’s aim.

11. Asking only open-ended questions

It is important to be precise about the questions on your survey, and not to leave all of them open-ended. While it’s smart to include comment sections where people can have their say, in fact, it is encouraged, your questions need to be straightforward, precise, and easy to answer. Adding too many open-ended questions to your survey will make the process of filling them out longer, which might trigger respondents to abandon it too early.

12. Loading and leading the respondents

When writing a customer feedback survey, you should avoid leading or loaded questions. A leading question nudges the respondent to answer in a specific manner, whereas a loaded question contains an implicit assumption.

Survey design good vs bad question: Loading and leading the respondents

13. Using double-barred questions

“What did you think about the price and quality of this product?”

Isn’t it difficult to respond to this question? This is an example of a double-barred question wherein it asks two questions but only allows for one answer. It seeks feedback on both price and quality which confuses respondents. A better way to frame this question would be to, instead, split it into two:

“What do you think about the price of this product?”

“What do you think about the quality of this product?”

14. Using absolutes in questions

Using absolute words such as “always,” “all,” “never,” and “every” can cause respondents to provide misleading responses that result in inaccurate data. To minimize these problems, ask respondents to rate the intensity of their feelings or the frequency of behavior on a scale.

Survey design good vs bad question: Using absolutes in questions

15. Failing to act on the data

Surveys assist you in gathering information, which allows you to make more informed decisions. If you want to be successful with surveys and get the most out of them, don’t just collect data, you must analyze it and act on it.

When choosing a survey provider, look for one that offers robust reporting and data analysis tools. Data that is easy to understand (visual reports are helpful), readily available, and available in real-time makes it possible to monitor progress and make changes quickly.

Final thoughts

It is essential to understand the overall objectives of your survey program and design a survey that meets your informational needs while also taking into account the respondent’s time and effort. Creating a balance between these two elements will help ensure that you collect the feedback you need in order to achieve your organizational goals.

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