6 Common Mistakes in Survey Questions and How to Avoid Them

It is a well-known fact that surveys are a fundamental tool for understanding the needs, opinions, and perceptions of employees in any company. At Team Insights, we are aware of the importance of formulating questions correctly to obtain reliable and valuable results.

If you want your survey to be effective, providing you with the appropriate information for the implementation of specific and high-impact measures, it is essential that the questions you ask are well-written. A task that seems easy, but in reality, it is not so much.

For this reason, in this article, we show you how to develop highly efficient survey questions and tell you about some of the most common mistakes you should avoid, and examples of how to solve them.

6 mistakes you should avoid when writing your survey questions

Writing the questions for a survey is an exercise that requires thinking beyond what you want to ask. The key to an actionable questionnaire that provides us with meaningful feedback lies in the small details. Details that, if we overlook, can completely ruin the quality of the results and hinder our goal of improving the organization.

Here are some of the most common mistakes made in drafting survey questions and how to avoid them:

#1. Not using specific words

A common mistake when writing questions for surveys is the use of “vague” or non-specific words or terms. These words can be interpreted differently by each respondent, which can lead to imprecise or misinterpreted answers, and ultimately to data that is not useful.

For example, if you ask, “Are you satisfied with your job?”, the word “satisfied” can have different meanings for different people. For some, it may mean that they are happy with their salary, while for others it may refer to having a healthy work-life balance.

How to avoid it

Try to be as concrete as possible in your questions. Instead of using vague or open to interpretation terms, clarify exactly what you mean. In the previous example, you could split the question into two: “Are you happy with your current salary?” and “Do you think you have a good balance between your work and personal life?”

In this way, you can get clearer and more accurate answers, which will help you obtain more valuable insights from your surveys.

#2. Falling into the trap of biased questions

A biased question is one that, due to its formulation, induces respondents towards a particular answer or suggests a “correct” or “desired” answer. This can occur in various ways, including the use of emotive language, the presentation of unbalanced response options, or even the insertion of assumptions in the question.

For example, the question “Don’t you just love our new remote work policy?” suggests that the respondent is expected to love the new policy. Whether consciously or unconsciously, questions like this exert pressure to express a more positive opinion than they actually have, distorting the survey results.

How to avoid it

To avoid formulating biased questions, it is essential to strive to maintain a neutral stance.

Your questions should allow respondents to express their opinion or experience without feeling influenced in a particular direction. Thus, in the previous example, you could rephrase the question to: “What do you think of our new remote work policy?” This way, the question is open and does not suggest a specific answer.

#3. Using closed questions when open ones are needed

Closed questions, such as “yes or no” ones, limit respondents’ answers to only a few options, which can be useful when looking for concise answers or wanting to analyze quantitative data.

However, they are not useful if you intend to collect more detailed information or better understand individual perspectives and experiences. Open questions, on the other hand, offer a much broader picture: they allow respondents to express themselves freely and provide deeper answers.

For example, a closed question like “Do you like working here?” will only give you a “yes” or “no”. Will these answers really help you identify areas for improvement?

How to avoid it

If you are looking to gain deeper or more detailed insight, it is advisable to opt for open questions.

For example, instead of the closed question mentioned earlier, you could ask: “What do you like about working here?”

With these types of formulations, you help team members share their thoughts and experiences in a more detailed and personal way, obtaining richer feedback that will allow you to know what actions to take to maximize the employee experience.

#4. Not using a balanced value scale

When your answers are represented on a value scale, it is essential that the points on that scale are equally equidistant. In other words, they must have the same conceptual distance from one point to another. This balance ensures that each increment or decrement on the scale represents an equal change in the variable you are measuring.

Additionally, it is important that the scale you use for the answers exhaustively covers all possible options or degrees of response. For example, look at this question and its answers:

Question: What is your opinion on the services of [Company Name]?

  • They are very good.
  • They are great.
  • They are fantastic.
  • They are incredible.
  • They are the best.

This response scale is inadequate because all points are positive, and the conceptual distance between points may not be equal.

Also, “They are very good” is the lowest value on this scale, which limits the ability of respondents to express opinions that may be less favorable, unrealistically reflecting the reality of the situation.

How to avoid it

To avoid this problem, you should strive to maintain a balance in the value scale you use for your survey responses.

Make sure that the points on the scale are equidistant and that the scale covers a full range of possible responses.

For example, a five-point Likert scale ranging from “Very dissatisfied” to “Very satisfied,” with “Neutral” in the middle, will provide you with a much more balanced and objective measurement.

#5. Not asking direct questions

Indirect or ambiguous questions can confuse respondents and lead to inaccurate or biased answers that would limit the usefulness of your survey. Additionally, these types of questions lengthen the time people need to complete the questionnaire, causing participation to not be optimal.

Questions like “Could you share some of your experiences in the company?” do not have a well-defined objective. Some people will explain what their day-to-day is like in their job, and others will tell you some funny or noteworthy anecdote. In neither case will the information you obtain help you improve people management.

How to avoid it

Make sure that your questions are clear and concise. If you want to know how your employees value their experience in the company, ask it bluntly. Using the example above, you could formulate the following question: “On a scale of 1 to 5, how do you rate your employee experience at [Company Name]?”.

#6. Not doing a test survey

Often, mistakes in the questions, survey logic, or user interface are not detected until the survey has been launched.

For example, you may have designed a perfect set of questions, but if the survey format is confusing, respondents may have difficulty completing it, wasting all your efforts.

How to avoid it

The best way to prevent possible problems is always to test your surveys before officially launching them.

At Team Insights, you can use the “Test Submissions” function. The surveys you send from this option are not recorded and will not modify the data of your organization, and they are a perfect rehearsal to ensure that your questionnaire will work the way you expect.

In conclusion…

By avoiding these mistakes, you will be able to collect valuable and accurate information that will help your company to grow and continuously improve.

While it is true that we could extend the list of bad practices, these six examples highlight the most common mistakes in designing quality questions, and the tips on how to avoid them will help you reframe your surveys in the right way.

Remember: good question framing is key to useful and actionable results.

And if you want to delve deeper into designing survey questions, you can start by creating a free account on our Team Insights software.

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