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7 Tips for Creating Great Online Surveys

The Polco Library allows organizations to create relevant, timely, semi-custom surveys without the hassle of starting from scratch.

The team at Polco spends time every day developing good survey questions. It can be harder than it looks! If you’re creating a survey you have a couple of choices — either to completely draft from scratch, or to modify from an existing survey. Here are some helpful tips no matter which route you choose.


If you are drafting your own survey with original content:


  1. Define the objectives or goals for the question to ensure the information you collect will provide meaningful feedback. Collected data should help inform some action on the part of the city or organization.
  2. A good question means the same thing to all respondents. Use clear, precise wording and sentence structure everyone will understand. Avoid using jargon, acronyms, and double negatives.
  3. If necessary, present any relevant background information in a neutral manner. Present enough information to ensure that respondents understand the topic, but not so much that some respondents won’t consider all of it. If respondents consider different amounts of background information, their responses will be based on different stimuli, negating the benefits of a standardized survey.
  4. A good question is worded neutrally and does not influence respondents to select one response over another. Use balanced wording in the question and response options so that  all possible opinions are neutrally represented.


If you want to draft a semi-custom survey:


  1. Carefully investigate previously-created surveys. Make sure you are modifying only surveys that follow the best practices listed above. They should be written by someone with both experience in the topic area and expertise in creating surveys.
  2. Watch for scope creep. Sometimes when you use someone else’s survey, you may find questions you hadn’t planned to ask, but that would provide interesting data. Keep yourself focused on the task at hand, but keep those other questions in mind for a follow-up survey.
  3. Consider if the questions are really suitable for your situation or environment. Many times surveys written for the private sector may need to be modified substantially to be appropriate for the public or nonprofit sectors.

A simple solution for semi-custom surveys


Survey scientists at National Research Center at Polco called on their 25 years of experience to create the Polco Library. The Library is a collection of expert-written, curated short surveys on common topics we’ve encountered in our extensive work with local governments. All of our surveys can be edited to suit your needs. Many of our surveys are available at low or no cost.


The Polco Library is full of short and long surveys that cover a wide variety of research interests for public entities. Surveys have covered topics such as COVID-19, economic development, recreation facilities, budgeting, housing, equity and inclusion and more. Each survey is designed to help you dive deeper into specific issues facing your community today. For example, you can find surveys on economic development, business and downtown vitality, and food access. A new survey is added to the Library each month. Plus, there are always at least two recent monthly surveys accessible using a free Polco account.


Learn more about the Polco Library.


Always keep focused on the end goal


Regardless of what path you take, the most important part is to start engaging your community.  The world has changed a whole lot over the last year, and it’s more important than ever to have current input from your residents. Happy engaging!