Survey Design: Top 18 Best Practices to Maximize Your Results

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Swetha Amaresan
Swetha Amaresan



Creating a great survey design is one way to collect data about your business or industry. These surveys help you identify trends, interests, patterns, and viewpoints. With your survey findings, you can make better decisions or position your company as a leader in your industry.

customer completing a survey with good survey design

Survey design can make or break your survey‘s completion rate. After all, it doesn’t matter how good your survey questions are if no one answers them. Below, we’ll review some survey design fundamentals, followed by 18 best practices you can use when designing your next survey.

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What is survey design?

Survey design is the creating, formatting, and stylizing of a survey. This trio plays a crucial role in motivating participants to complete survey questions. When surveys are specifically designed for a target audience, participants are more likely to finish them and provide your business with valuable feedback.

As highlighted in the image below, if you create a survey template, format your questions, or style a survey‘s look, you’re participating in survey design.

survey design examples

There are three things to keep in mind during the survey design process. We'll discuss that next.

The Three C's of Survey Design

Whenever you‘re creating a survey, it’s important to consider the three C's outlined in the image below: clear, concise, and communicative.

survey design tips

These core factors influence your survey design and help distinguish between good and great surveys.

1. Clear

If your survey design is clear, that means participants aren't left with questions about the purpose of the survey and how to complete it.

To determine if your survey is clear enough, ask yourself:

  • Are my survey questions easy to understand?
  • Does each survey question elicit a specific answer?
  • Will my participants understand the point of each survey question?

Pro tip: If the questions seem hard to understand, random, or out of place, participants are more likely to lose focus — and less likely to complete your form.

2. Concise

Brevity is vital in survey design because respondents shy away from lengthy or time-consuming surveys.

These four questions can help you decide whether your survey is concise:

  • How long is my survey?
  • Is it the ideal survey length?
  • Is it less than 30 questions?
  • Are my questions worded succinctly and only asked once (not rephrased or asked in multiple ways)?

Pro tip: Pay close attention to these details, as the length of your survey is one of the most important factors that influence its completion rate.

3. Communicative

You also want your survey to communicate your intended message. That way, your results will be meaningful to your objectives.

Here are a few questions to help you ensure your survey design is communicative:

  • Will the questions help me achieve my major goal?
  • Does each question hold weight in producing meaningful insights?
  • Are there questions that are irrelevant or that may distract participants?

Pro tip: Your survey should only include your need-to-have questions, so it's especially important to make the right selection.

The Three C's of Survey Design will help improve the quality of your survey tremendously. But you can also check out the video below from SAGE Publishing to learn more about how you can effectively design the right survey for your audience.


18 Survey Design Best Practices

best practices of survey design

Let's discuss each one in detail.

1. Set a goal for your survey.

Before designing your survey, you should come up with a goal or set of goals you want to achieve. Without this benchmark, it‘s easy to get off-topic and lose sight of your survey’s purpose.

Pro tip: Your goal should be simple but specific. Rather than, “I want to evaluate employee satisfaction,” consider a more precise goal like, “I want to understand what's causing rapid turnover on our customer-facing teams.”

This will provide you with a roadmap to your survey design, making it easier to determine your questions and how best to order them.

2. Set expectations for your respondents.

Respondents want to know how long they’ll spend on your survey — five minutes? 10 minutes? 20 minutes? Let them know. This reduces your survey dropout rate from the get-go.

Pro tip: You can also set expectations by stating the number of questions, why the survey is worth the respondent’s time, and how you would use the data.

3. Ask relevant questions only.

Asking too many questions isn’t the best use of a survey taker’s time. What’s worse is when the questions aren’t relevant to the survey.

Pro tip: Before sending your survey, read it and delete questions that don’t align with the premise of your research. This keeps your survey short, easy for respondents to complete, and cuts down on the time you need to analyze responses.

4. Don’t ask respondents to self-report data you have.

Asking respondents to provide data that they believe you have can make them lose interest and quit the survey. This data includes contact information, purchase history, product usage frequency, demographic data, subscription status, and many more.

For instance, no customer wants you to ask if they use the free plan for your product. You have this data. Stripping these questions from your survey helps you have one less question, and this can lead to a higher survey response rate. If you must ask questions related to the data you have, ensure they are highly relevant to your research.

5. Ask questions your respondents can answer accurately.

If a question doesn’t elicit a quantitative answer, chances are the response may be inaccurate. For instance, “Did our blog post directly influence your decision to sign up for our newsletter?”

This question can get inaccurate responses because other things could have influenced the survey takers. This can be a brilliant LinkedIn post by your employees, a tweet from your brand that they like, or the mention of your brand by someone in a niche community.

In other words, the blog post was the conduit the respondent needed to sign up for the newsletter. Even if you include ‘other’ in your options, some respondents may forget what influenced their decision. The result? Misleading or inaccurate data.

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6. Strike the right balance between question types.

There are two main types of questions you can choose to include in your survey: close-ended and open-ended.

Close-ended questions are questions that include pre-determined answers created by the survey designers. Typically, these questions come in multiple-choice or checkbox format, and participants choose from the options provided.

Including more close-ended questions in your survey helps you produce quantitative results. These results are easier for consumers to respond to and for you to analyze.

Open-ended questions help you gather qualitative data. But since they take longer to fill out and review, it's best you include them when you want specific feedback or when you’re working with a small audience.

Pro tip: Be sure to place any open-ended questions towards the end of the survey as they take more effort to complete and can sometimes overwhelm the participant. The best place to put them is about three-quarters into the survey before participants experience survey fatigue.

7. Avoid biased and leading questions.

It's easy to accidentally include biased or leading questions in your survey.

For instance, asking, “How wonderful was your experience with our customer service team?” is a common example of a leading question — a question that encourages the researcher's desired response.

Questions like these undermine the validity of your results. You can‘t trust your data’s accuracy because participants have been subjectively influenced by your team. Such questions could also turn off some respondents who may drop out of the survey.

Instead, you can ask this question by saying, “How would you rate your experience with our customer service team?” This maintains an unbiased attitude, encouraging respondents to answer honestly.

8. Avoid double-barreled questions.

These questions ask participants to respond to two separate sentiments at once and this can affect the validity of their response.

For example, asking, “What do you like best about our website and social media?” may force participants to answer based on their view of either your website or your social media. You won‘t know exactly which one they’re referring to in their answer, and this makes their response relatively useless.

Here’s another question: “Rate how often you use our software for data analysis and reporting?” This question assumes respondents use the software for both data analysis and reporting. Some respondents might use it for one of both purposes. Even if others use the software for both purposes, it's impossible to know what their answer refers to; data analysis or reporting.

9. Pay attention to your vocabulary and phrasing.

The validity of your data can be jeopardized if your questions are vague or have limited options.

Pro tip: Using absolute words like ‘always’, ‘every’, or ‘never’ forces participants to either completely agree or disagree with your questions. This can make some respondents hesitant to answer or even complete the survey.

Take this question as an example:

Do you always shop with our company online?

A. Yes

B. No

The above question has limited options because some customers may shop online and in-store occasionally. In other words, the accuracy of responses to this question is reduced. But notice what happens when you delete ‘always’ from the question. The question becomes straightforward and provides accurate data. You could even use a scale that includes options like ‘sometimes’ or ‘rarely’ for respondents who aren’t in the yes or no category.

10. Incorporate response scales.

Response scales show the intensity of someone's attitude towards a specific topic. With tools like HubSpot, these types of responses provide in-depth customer feedback on how your audience feels without using open-ended questions.

Rather than offering ‘Yes/No’ or ‘True/False’ responses, you can use a 5-point Likert scale. This way, participants are presented with a series of statements and asked to rate their opinions using a scale with opposite extremities.

For instance, rather than asking, “Do you come to our stores often?” you could phrase the question like this:

How often do you come to one of our stores?

A. Very Frequently

B. Frequently

C. Occasionally

D. Rarely

E. Never

This format gives you more specific feedback on your topic while maintaining a quantitative, closed-ended response.

11. Keep the wording simple.

Remember the first “C” that stood for “Clear?” You want to ensure your questions are user-friendly, comprehensible, and leave no room for miscommunication.

A good way to do this is by using casual language and avoiding jargon.

For example, instead of this: “What insights did you procure from your conversation with our customer service reps that ultimately impacted your decision to transition from acquisition to advocacy?”

Try this: “How did your customer service experience encourage you to stay loyal to our brand?” The second version is simple, and every participant will understand it. Avoid the giant run-on sentence, too.

12. Use images and videos to clarify information.

Sometimes, no matter how well-worded your question is, it still might not be clear to respondents. In these cases, it helps to accompany the question with an image or video to clear up any confusion.

If you want to ask participants how they'd feel about a new product, it may not be enough to describe the concept using just words. Rather than writing a long description, you could include an image for participants to evaluate.

Here's an example question with an image:

Consider the following image before answering the question below:

survey design examples; how to use images to clarify information in a design

Image Source

How much would you be willing to pay for this smartphone?

A. $0-199

B. $200-399

C. $400-599

D. $600-799

E. $800-999

This format is much cleaner and easier to comprehend than a block of text. Plus, it also gives you the opportunity to ask a series of questions based on one distinct image.

13. Explain questions around sensitive topics.

Some surveys may require you to ask questions that seem unnecessary or personal.

To learn more about your target audience, you'd want to include demographic questions related to ethnicity, income, gender, and more. Some participants are sensitive to these topics, so it‘s important to explain why you’re requesting this information.

If people feel uncomfortable, they might skip your question or worse — abandon the survey altogether. To make it clear why these questions are being asked, provide a short description explaining why they're important to your research.

Let participants know that the responses will be confidential and used only for research purposes. And, of course, follow through on your word.

14. Don’t make all of your questions ‘required.’

There are two drawbacks to making all of your survey questions required. The first is massive dropoffs, as respondents who can’t answer a required question correctly will abandon the survey. The outcome of this setback is you need a much wider pool of participants to get a statistically significant sample size.

The second challenge is that you could get inaccurate and misleading data from respondents who select random answers for questions they can’t answer accurately. So before hitting send on your survey, rethink your decision to make any question required.

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15. Provide an opt-out option for multiple-choice questions.

If a respondent can’t find their preferred answer among your options, you need to allow them to skip the question or provide an open-ended response. This keeps the survey taker at ease, avoids forced responses, and ensures you get accurate data.

For every multiple-choice question, ensure you include one opt-out option like: None of the above, Other (Please Specify), Other (Please explain), Not applicable, I don't know, and Prefer not to answer.

16. Test your survey.

Once you‘ve designed your survey, test it before sending it to stakeholders. You want to make sure the survey is effective and that it’ll collect the data you're looking for.

Conducting a test run on a small sample size or internal employees can help your team catch overlooked errors. Getting fresh eyes on the survey will ensure there are no missing questions, misspelled words, or biased wording that you may have missed.

It‘s best to find these problems now rather than discovering them after the survey’s been distributed.

Also, use this opportunity to obtain feedback on the survey's design. Is it too long? Is it boring? Are any questions confusing or repetitive? Do the questions make sense?

Use this feedback to edit your survey, then test it again. Repeat this process until you get a positive response from your participants and are prepared to send out the final draft.

17. Include a survey incentive.

An incentive may help you get a higher survey response rate. From the respondents' perspective, an incentive shows you value their time and input, and this could make them more willing to engage with the survey.

Incentives could also help you get high-quality responses since respondents feel you recognize their effort. Another benefit of incentives is that you have less risk of bias in your results because incentives can attract a broader range of participants.

If a survey taker responds to all of your questions, you may offer a gift card, product discount, coupon, cash, charitable donation, and many more as an incentive.

18. Summarize your findings.

So, you‘ve sent out your expertly designed survey. To wrap things up, you’ll want to set aside time to review, summarize, and analyze your results.

This is the stage when many businesses begin to recognize the importance of survey design. A poorly designed survey will return, well, poor results.

Designing a survey that's clear, concise, and communicative — and aligned with the other best practices above — will make the reporting process much easier.

Now that we‘ve covered the best practices, let’s take a look at a few examples of survey design.

Survey Design Examples

As shown in the image below, there are several examples of how you can design your survey with different types of questions.

survey design best practices

Let's review a few of them here.

Multiple Choice

Multiple choice questions allow respondents to choose one (or more) options from many.

Example (single-option):

What's your favorite time of day?

A. Morning

B. Afternoon

C. Evening

D. Late night

E. Prefer not to answer

Example (multiple-selection):

What color(s) would you like to see our product in next? Please select all that apply.


▢ Purple

▢ Yellow

▢ Red

▢ None of the above

Rank Order

Rank order questions give respondents the opportunity to list different items in their preferred order of importance.


Which of the following is most important to you when it comes to customer service? Please rank the following items in order of most important (1) to least important (5).

Quick response time ____

Friendly disposition ____

Self-service options ____

Omni-channel support ____

Exceeding expectations ____

Likert Scale

Likert scale questions include statements where the respondent can indicate how much they agree or disagree with each.


I prefer to shop online rather than in-store.

A. Strongly agree

B. Agree

C. Neither agree nor disagree

D. Disagree

E. Strongly disagree


Matrix questions allow you to collect data based on two or more variables for each question or list item you include.


Based on your recent experience, please rate the following customer service attributes.survey design best practices


Open-ended questions give respondents the opportunity to leave comments and answer prompts freely, without the constraints of predetermined options.


How can we improve our customer service? Please type your answer below.


Maximize Results with Good Survey Design

Good survey design is the best way to ensure your survey results are informative and reliable. Make it easy for customers to give you feedback by designing a survey that works best for both of you.

Editor's note: This post was originally published in September 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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Topics: Survey Creation

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