A tick box above three faces representing positive, neutral, negative responses to a survey

Surveys are used to gather feedback and responses from groups of people to help ascertain thoughts, opinions and feelings.

Surveys are easy to administer, flexible and can be targeted to a specific group or can be used more widely. Surveys are efficient at collecting data from large number of respondents and a good way of getting unbiased results from which conclusions can be drawn and informed decisions made.

Remember, it is a great idea to use surveys but do not base all your decision making on the survey results alone as this should form just part of your wider research.

Writing a good survey means asking questions in a way that lets respondents answer truthfully. At the same time, it means providing respondents with a quick and easy survey-taking experience. You can see our survey top tips below:

Top tips for writing surveys

Do's

  • Do identify a clear purpose/goals of the survey – what is the main reason for doing the survey?
  • Do identify what information is needed from the survey – what are you trying to further ascertain from the survey?
  • Do identify the respondent target group – who do you intend to send the survey to?
  • Do put together a list of questions in advance of creating the survey, this will help you think about the language, structure and type.
  • Do keep questions simple and to the point - make your questions easy to understand by using simple everyday language that your respondent will understand. (However, if you are collecting data from expert it is OK to use Jargon that they will understand.)
  • Do keep a balanced unbiased set of answer options. Writing good survey questions involves using an objective tone. For example, if the answer option includes; ‘Very helpful’, ‘somewhat helpful’, ‘helpful’, …make sure you also include ‘somewhat unhelpful’, ‘unhelpful’, ‘very unhelpful’.
  • Do give your questions context by setting the scene, so that there is no ambiguity. For example, How many times have you been to your registered GP surgery in the last 12 months?
  • Create measurable answer options so that answers are not left to interpretation. For example, None, 1-2, 3-5, 6-8, 8 or more, Don’t Know.
  • Do keep the survey and questions as short as possible to encourage higher completion rates.
  • Do inform respondents of the survey’s purpose, who it is from, how long it will take and how their personal data will be handled. You can do this in an email or in a survey intro paragraph.
  • Do follow Data Protection Top Tips to ensure you are GDPR compliant.

Don't

  • Don’t make surveys too long otherwise people will not complete them. Instead consider sending quick one-question polls out on a regular basis instead of lengthy surveys.
  • Don’t use words with unclear meanings – avoid phrases that are left to interpretation or have multiple meanings.
  • Don’t give too many options to choose from in a list - 10 max and limit the number of ranking options to 6 max!
  • Don’t have too many open-ended questions –i.e. cannot be answered with a "yes" or "no" response. These tend to take people more time and effort to complete and might make them drop out. You should use these questions sparingly and it is recommended to put them at the end of the survey and make them optional. For example, ‘any other comments’.
  • Don’t use leading questions - Keep your survey questions neutral. Putting an opinion in your question prompt can influence respondents to answer in a way that doesn’t reflect how they really feel. For example, we think our customer service is fantastic, what do you think?
  • Don’t ask for two things at one, also known as double barrelled questions the best way is to avoid using ‘and’ in your question as this may be confusing. For example, Which cereal do you think is the healthiest and most delicious?
  • Don’t collect unnecessary personal data, not every survey requires the person's name. Think about what is the minimum amount of data you require to inform your decisions. The survey responses should (ideally) be anonymous. You can read our Collecting Personal Data Top tips.

Other survey best practice

  • Think about the best time to schedule survey, if you’re asking for feedback on a recent event you’ll want to follow up quickly while the event is still fresh in peoples’ minds.
  • Do test the survey with a test group before you send it out.
  • Offer incentives to respondents to ensure they compete the survey.
  • Send reminders to respondents to boost success rates.
  • Invite respondents to see the results of the surveys as a public report.
  • Inform respondents of any positive actions that have been taken as a result of their survey feedback so they are involved throughout the process.
  • Use display logic to show and hide questions from respondents so that they do not see unnecesary questions.
  • Use a progress bar to show respondents how far through the survey they are, this helps people know how much more there is left to go. 

Further help