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Survey Questions

How to make a good Questionnaire!


The first question to ask is one you should ask yourself:

"What do I hope to learn from asking the questions?"

This defines your objective (the purpose, or why you are conducting the survey). 

Example: you want to clean up the local river. You feel that with some help and some money you could make it really beautiful again.

You want to survey your local community to find out:

  • Are other people also worried about the river.
  • Would they be willing to donate their time or money to help.


Now you know why you are doing a survey, start writing down the questions you will ask!

Just write down any questions you think may be useful. Don't worry about quality at this stage, we will improve your list of questions later.

Example: Questions you could ask for the river survey:

  • Does pollution worry you?
  • Do you ever go down to the river?
  • Can you spare some money to help the river?
  • Have you noticed the pollution in the river?
  • Would you be happy to volunteer for river cleanup?
  • When would you be available to help?
  • How should we clean up the river?
  • etc...

You can also ask the person about themselves (not too personal!), such as approximate age, male or female, etc, so that you know the kind of people that you have been surveying.

you Your Turn: Go ahead and write down the questions for your own survey!

Types of Questions

A survey question can be:

  • Open-ended (the person can answer in any way they want), or
  • Closed-ended (the person chooses from one of several options)

Closed ended questions are much easier to total up later on, but may stop people giving an answer they really want.

Example: "What is your favorite color?"

Open-ended: Someone may answer "dark fuchsia", in which case you will need to have a category "dark fuchsia" in your results.

Closed-ended: With a choice of only 12 colors your work will be easier, but they may not be able to pick their exact favorite color.

you Look at each of your questions and decide if they should be open-ended or closed ended (take the opportunity to rewrite any questions, too)

Example: "What do you think is the best way to clean up the river?"

Make it Open-ended: the answers won't be easy to put in a table or graph, but you may get some good ideas, and there may be some good quotes for your report.

Example: "How often do you visit the river?"

Make it Closed-ended with the following options:

  • Nearly every day
  • At least 5 times a year
  • 1 to 4 times a year
  • Almost never

You will be able to present this data in a neat bar graph.

Question Sequence

It is important that the questions don't "lead" people to the answer

Example: people may say "yes" to donate money if you ask the questions this way

  • Do you love nature?
  • Will you donate money to help the river?

But probably will say "no" if you ask the questions this way:

  • Is lack of money a problem for you?
  • Will you donate money to help the river?

To avoid this kind of thing, try to have your questions go:

  • from the least sensitive to the most sensitive
  • from the more general to the more specific
  • from questions about facts to questions about opinions
you Go through your questions and put them in the best sequence possible

Example: I will ask people how often they visit the river (a fact) before I ask them what they feel about pollution (an opinion)

I will ask people their general feelings about the environment before I ask them their feelings about the river.


Neutral Questions

Your questions should also be neutral ... allowing the person to think their own thoughts about the question.


In the example above we had the question "Do you love nature?" ... that is a bad question because it is almost forcing the person to say "Yes, of course."

Try rewording it to be more neutral, for example:

Example: "How important is the natural environment to you?"

  • Not Important
  • Some Importance
  • Very Important

But you can also make statements and see if people agree:


you Reword every question to be neutral

Possible Answers

For each "closed-ended" question try to think:

What are the possible answers to this question?

Conducting a Survey

Make sure you have most of the common answer available.

If you are not sure what people might answer, you could always try a small open ended survey (maybe ask your friends or people in the street) to find common answers.

Trick: try to avoid neutral answers (such as "don't care") because people may choose them so they don't have to think about the answer!

It is also helpful to have an “other” category in case none of the choices are satisfactory for the person answering the question.

Example:  What is your favorite color?

Red, blue, green, yellow, purple, black, brown, orange, other

Scaled Answers

Sometimes you could have a scale on which they can rate their feelings about the question.

Have "opposite" words at either end and a scale in between like this:


The river is ...

Polluted :_____:_____:_____:_____:_____:_____: Clean

Cleaning up the river is ...

Easy :_____:_____:_____:_____:_____:_____: Difficult

Rate Each Item

Ask the person to rate or rank each option. (Don't have too many items though, as it is too hard for people)

Example: Please rank the following activities from 1 to 5, putting 1 next to your favorite through to 5 for your least favorite.

  • ___ Fishing
  • ___ Football
  • ___ Golf
  • ___ Shopping
  • ___ Sleeping

Number Answers

You can also just ask for a number

Example: "How many times did you visit the river during the past year?"

____ times

you Look at each "closed-end" question and choose the best answer options.


Conducting a Survey

How Will I Gather the Answers?

Try to make life easier by thinking how you will gather the answers before you ask the questions

It is important to make the process simple, for both yourself and those responding. 


The Questionnaire

You are going to want a neat form that makes it easy to answer the questions AND easy to total up the answers later on.


Type your questions and answer options into a word processor or spreadsheet, format it neatly.

Remember to leave plenty of space for open-ended questions.

How Will I Show the Results?

Go over each of the questions and think how you want the answers to go into your report:

  • in a table,
  • a bar graph,
  • a pie chart,
  • or just explained in words.
you Make sure each question is set up so you will be able to present the answers the way you want.

Example: you decide to have six options for "How many times do you visit the river" so the bar graph looks best.

Test it out

You should test your questionnaire on a few people.

  • was each question clear and easy to understand?
  • were they happy with the options?
It is also a good idea to time how long it takes so you will be able to tell people "this survey only takes 2 minutes" (or however long it takes) clock


Try the questionnaire on some friends.

Take notes of any difficulties your friends have with the questionnaire, and see what you can do to improve it.

Your Original Objective

Lastly, look back at your original objectives for this survey ...

  • will the questions really help you find out what you want to know?
  • are there some questions you can remove? (smaller surveys are easier!)

This is your last chance to make sure your questionnaire is a good one!

You Are Done!

Now you have your questions as perfect as you can get them ..

... go out and ask them!