How to Create Great Survey Questions

Hit a home-run with every poll or survey question you post with Polco!

How do you write great survey questions? Join our featured speaker Michelle Kobayashi,  Senior Vice President of Innovation for Polco / National Research Center (NRC), as she reveals top tips and helpful examples for creating the most useful survey questions possible. Kobayashi is the co-creator of the nation’s preferred resident survey, The National Community Survey™ (The NCS™). She has also helped local governments at every level, special districts and other public sector entities maximize public opinion and survey research for over 30 years.

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Engage Residents Throughout the Policy Lifecycle

The most successful local governments engage residents at all stages of decision making. Include constituents in identifying pressing issues in the community, prioritizing solutions, and evaluating whether the work you did had the impact you intended. Surveys can be helpful for strategic planning, budgeting, and performance management.


Make Things Easy for the Respondent

The most important thing to pay attention to when writing questions is to make things easy for the person taking the survey. Survey questions that are too complicated will lower response rates and decrease community representation in the results. To reduce respondent burden, keep literacy levels lower, use easy questions at the beginning, and put sensitive or more difficult questions at the end of survey.

Tips for Writing Great Survey Questions 


Stay neutral.

We want to welcome all opinions whether they are good or bad. Using neutral questions helps the survey to feel less like marketing and more like a tool that can provide actionable data.


Be concise.

People are much more likely to answer the question if you are to the point.


Focus on one topic per question.

You might get an inaccurate result or confuse the respondent if you ask about multiple topics in one question.


Avoid false assumptions.

Think your questions through to ensure you haven’t missed a necessary response option.


Avoid jargon. 

Make sure the average person who doesn’t work in your field also understands all the terms in your survey.


Consider social desirability bias.

People want to tell you things they think you want to hear. They will err on the side of trying to make themselves look better. Give them permission to give a negative answer by structuring survey questions that encourage them to feel okay if they answer negatively.


Limit Open-Ended Questions

We recommend using fixed-choice questions as much as possible for surveys since open-ended questions can be more challenging for the respondent and harder to code later. With that said, open-ended questions work well in small amounts when you can’t think of specific response options. 


Carefully Consider Your Response Options

There are many considerations when choosing your response options. Experts often use five  scale points, including a “Don’t Know” option. It’s also best to label options with words rather than numbers.


Pilot Test!

Great survey questions are straightforward and easily understood by the survey taker. It’s important to always pilot test questions before using them. Get feedback on how user-friendly the survey questions are.