Survey Design Best Practices

An important goal as a survey author is to construct clear, direct questions using the language that survey participants will understand. While there are no set rules on the wording of these questions, there are some basic principles that do work to improve the overall design. Most importantly, make sure your survey is relevant, accurate, and valid.

Be familiar with the questions + Know the objectives + Know the kinds of information needed = RELEVANCY

This article provides tips on utilizing specific principles to construct effective surveys:

  • Creating Great Questions
  • Available SurveyMonkey Question Types
  • Use of Space and Design
  • Improve Response Rates
star For more information, please download the Best Practices Survey Guide (*Available in English Only).

Take a look through our best practices video to get started!


Considerations for Creating Effective Survey Questions:

The types of questions you use play a role in producing unbiased or relevant survey responses. As the author, consider what questions to use and when it is appropriate to use them.

  • These range from open-ended (comments to essays) to closed-ended (yes/no, multiple choice, rating scale, etc).
  • In the end, it is the question types that determine what kind of information is collected.
star View the following recommendations if creating large surveys: Time Out Issues


Be Brief - Be Objective - Be Simple - Be Specific

A good design should help to stimulate recall (if necessary); it should motivate the respondent to answer; and the sequence of questions should help to create a certain flow through the survey. It is good practice to avoid the unintentional violation of a survey's objectivity, so avoid the following:


1. Leading Questions:

You don't want to lead your respondents to answering questions a certain way based on the wording or structure of them.

Example: We have recently upgraded SurveyMonkey’s features to become a first class tool.  What are your thoughts on the first class site?

Replace with: What are your thoughts on the upgrades to SurveyMonkey?


2. Loaded Questions:

Loaded questions work through emotionally charged items like words, stereotypes, etc. This too can push respondents towards a specific answer choice.


3. Built in assumptions:

Do not ask questions that assume the respondents are familiar with the specifics. 


4. Use simple language - no jargon: 

Use words that are direct and familiar to the respondents. Try not to use jargon or technical concepts. Avoid double negatives and double-barreled questions.

Double-Barreled questions split questions into more than one part, idea or meaning. The answer choice for each part might have separate meanings to the ideas presented within the one question.

Example: How useful do you find SurveyMonkey’s Help Center Topics and the email support center?

Replace with:

Question 1: How useful do you find SurveyMonkey’s Help Center Topics?

Question 2:  How useful do you find SurveyMonkey’s email support?



SurveyMonkey Question Types:

When you add or edit questions in the survey designer, there is a drop-down menu provided for selecting the question type.

These questions are also available on our homepage. Click on the types of questions link here to view examples of how they are used.

star For more information on the question types, please visit our question types tutorial.


Use of Space and Design:

You are the survey author and designer, so you can make it as visually interesting as you would like! If you are a Professional subscriber with SurveyMonkey, you will be able to customize the design according to your needs. Here are some tips to remember when creating the look of an online survey:

  1. Make the survey visually appealing and user-friendly.
  2. Try not to use small fonts or fonts that are not easy to read. Some participants may have a difficult time reading small print.
  3. To avoid clutter, use white space .
  4. Ask only one question per line. If it makes sense you can place questions side by side using our tool.
  5. Group similar question together or in the same area  of the survey by using page breaks. It is also good with our system to add more than one page to the survey. That way if respondents need to resume later, their progression will be saved when the [Next] button is clicked.
  6. Ask interesting questions in the beginning of the survey to grab the participants’ attention. This helps to stimulate interest.
  7. Place demographic and/or sensitive questions at the end of the survey. If they are in the beginning, participants may opt out early.
  8. Finally, test the survey before going live. A small sample of test respondents can help verify if your survey is working properly. This enables you to revise and edit questions and the survey design.


lightbulb Tips! Improving Response Rates:

When sending surveys to an audience through an online platform, there are many things to consider for collecting quality data. Not only do you need to know your survey audience, but you will want to create an effective survey that is relevant but also interesting. If you solicit a poorly designed survey to an audience who does not know you, then you can expect to collect extremely low response rates. In addition, your message and survey may also get reported as SPAM.

What are Response Rates? 

The percentage of people who respond to your survey is considered the response rate .A high survey response rate helps to ensure that the survey results are representative of the survey population. You can calculate the response rate for your survey using the following equation.

Number of Completed Surveys / Number of Participants Contacted x 100% = Response Rate

There are things you can do in the survey design and in your email message invitations to increase response rates on your survey. 

A. Survey Design: 

  • Consider the purpose of your research.
  • Establish a relationship with your respondents and try to pre-notify them of an upcoming survey.
  • Create a survey that asks the right questions to meet your research objective.
  • Keep your design clean, precise, logical, and short if possible.
  • Pilot test your survey to make sure that all is working correctly and the questions make sense.


arrow Review our blog to gain insight into the following: Does Adding One More Question Impact Survey Completion Rate? (Currently our blog is in English only.)

B. Email Invitation:

Message content is important. The invitation message is what your respondents will see first. Upon their initial glance of the invitation, recipients could send it directly to SPAM if you ignore these tips:

  • Do not use SPAM language in the message.
  • Include your contact information, how you got the email address, the survey intention, what you will do with the data, if it is anonymous, etc.
  • Personalize the message. Include the name of your respondents in the body.
  • Do not use SPAM language in the subject title like all caps, money symbols, etc.
  • Use a professional reply email address.
  • Indicate how long the survey takes to complete and indicate the cutoff date.
  • Don't send unsolicited emails! Use clean and updated contact email lists.
  • Consider the timing of your survey collection. Does your audience consist mostly of students or are they working professionals?
  • Schedule reminders messages.
  • Offer incentives.


Email Formatting and Response Rates Tips:

For more information on message formatting and increasing response rates, please view the following Guides (*These are currently available in English only):

arrow Email Message Formatting Tips
arrow Response Rates & Surveying Techniques