Your survey answers are as important to collecting high quality data as the question you write. So, we’ve provided some tips on writing answers for several types of survey questions, from multiple choice to likert scales.
1. Answers should be clear and concise
Ensure that respondents can derive a clear meaning from each answer option you provide.
- Very Often
The difference in meaning between ‘Sometimes’ and ‘Rarely’ is murky. But if you really need to include two words as similar as these, it’d be a good idea to provide a definition of each.
You can use a text box from KwikSurveys’ Presentational Items for this purpose.
2. Don’t use ‘Extreme Absolutes’
This is a suggestion for both your question and answer text; you should avoid using extreme absolutes. These are words such as ‘All’, ‘Any’, ‘Best’, ‘Worst’, ‘Never’, ‘Always’ and tend to assume that respondents will fully agree or disagree with a statement.
In truth, respondents aren’t likely to fully agree or disagree with a statement and are more responsive to specifics. E.g. ‘Once a Day – Once a Month’ rather than ‘Never – Always’.
3. Make sure your answer options are ‘Collectively Exhaustive’
All relevant survey answers should be made available to respondents. What those answers may be depends on the framing of your question.
For example, your marketing research may require you to collect data on customer expectations.
Question: ‘What level of care are you expecting for the duration of your stay?’
Scale: Excellent | Very Good | Good | Fair
In this case, all expected answers have been provided. (There’s no need to include the negative response options as no one would expect a poor level of care).
4. Limit your answer options per question
Offering too many or too few answer options are both bad practises. Too few answer options may be restrictive whilst too many can be confusing.
If you find you constantly have more than four or five answer choices, yours questions may be too broad. Ask yourself if those questions can be split into two or simplified in some way.
5. Provide ‘No Opinion’ answer options (when necessary)
By including a ‘neutral’ answer option, such as ‘N/A’ or ‘No Opinion’, you give respondents the choice to OPT out. If those respondents didn’t this option, they’d have to select another answer.
The problem caused here is, that answer may not reflect their opinion and so that data isn’t representative or anything meaningful.
It’s important to understand when to employ this feature, as you won’t always need it, e.g. when asking customers to evaluate a service, an N/A option would not only be unnecessary, but also counter-productive.
6. Good survey answers are ‘Mutually Exclusive’
No two answers should be so similar that respondents are unsure of which to pick. Below is the most common example of this issue.
Select Age Bracket: 18-25, 25-35, 35-45, 45-55, 55-65
Select age bracket: 18-25, 26 -35, 36-45, 46-55, 56-65
In the first example, respondents wouldn’t know which age bracket to pick if they were 25, 35, 45 or 55.
7. No more than 7 options for scaled questions
Try not to exceed more than 7 answer options for scaled questions, i.e. 3 positive answers, 1 neutral answer and 3 negative answers.
Too many answer choices will increase the risk of mental taxation and decrease completion rates.
This only really applies to Matrix question types (likert scales). And Opinion Scale can contain up to 10 or 11 points.
8. Use labels for rating scales
When creating a rating scale, always remember to label each point. Leaving these fields blank will only cause ambiguity.
For example, if you have a Net Promoter Score question you’d be asking: “How likely are you to recommend this product/service to a friend or colleague?”. Then you’d set a scale from 0-10.
If you didn’t label one end ‘Very Unlikely’ (0) and the other ‘Extremely Likely’ (10), you’re certain to cause confusion with some respondents. And this is the last thing you want to do when asking for a review of your product or service.
You should also ensure that the opposing labels are directly contrasting. This is to say that, if one end of the scale is ‘Very Good’, the other end should be ‘Very Poor’ and not ‘Poor’ or ‘Awful’.
9. Convert scales to contrasts
You don’t always have to do this, but if you’re using a lot of scaled questions it might be better to re-frame some of them as contrasts statements instead.
Rating Scale Question:
Q: ‘How much do you agree with this statement: There is a good work-life balance in my department’
Strongly Disagree | Disagree | No Opinion | Agree | Strongly Agree
Contrasting Statement Question:
Q: ‘Is there a good work-life balance in your department?’
A: ‘There is a positive work-life balance’ B: ‘There is a negative work-life balance’.
The reason we suggest this is because you want to avoid mentally-taxing respondents and causing survey fatigue. If someone constantly answering the same question type, there likely to start satisficing. Filling out an online survey isn’t the most exciting task and so it’s easy for respondents to lose interest or motivation. You want to do everything you can to keep them engaged.
This also occurs if answers are repeatedly in the same order for scaled (or any multiple choice) questions. You can read about ‘Answer Order Effects’ in our How to Write good Survey Questions article.
10. Switch the direction of scale options
Some respondents may speed through your survey, selecting survey answers that don’t reflect their opinion. With scaled questions, this usually manifests as straight lines in your survey data (i.e. always picking the same point of a scale for each question).
This is more likely to occur is you’re offering and incentive of some kind (prize/ promotion) but can be caused by survey fatigue or disengagement.
Unfortunately, there’s no real way of preventing respondents doing this (other than ensuring your survey is as engaging as possible). However, you can reduce the effect of this on your results by reversing the direction of scales for each question.
Question 1: Strongly Disagree – Strongly Agree.
Question 2: Strongly Agree – Strongly Disagree.
This distributes the survey answers selected by these respondents equally to each end of the scale. Meaning, one end isn’t extremely disproportionate to the other.
If you’ve already written all your questions and answers out, KwikSurveys has a feature for reversing the points of your scale.
11. Always balance your scales
You should always have an equal number of positive and negative answer choices for scaled questions.
E.g. Very Poor | Poor | Good | Very Good | Excellent
In the example above, you can see there are more positive answer choice than negative ones.
As a result of this, bias could be created. For instance, respondents could be more likely to pick a positive answer because there’s more of them or start picking negative answers because they feel they’re being led the other way.
By keeping survey answers balanced, you decrease the number of variables influencing respondents’ choices.
12. Provide a neutral scale option
Respondents may not have an opinion on a subject or be unable to decide how they feel. To prepare for these cases, you’ll want to provide a neutral option. These are usually found at the centre of a likert scale.
E.g. Very Poor | Poor | No Opinion | Good | Very Good
These options can actually be very informative. Say you’re launching a customer satisfaction survey and receive a high percentage of respondents selecting ‘No Opinion’. This could be an indicator that you’re putting too much emphasis on the wrong aspect of service or product, and your customers are looking to be engaged in some other way.
With close ended questions, the answer choices are just as important as the question text when it comes to gathering data. But with open ended questions, there’s more pressure on how you frame your question if you want the same quality in survey responses. Luckily, we’ve written an article on how to write good survey questions.
If you just want some tips for optimizing your project, you may want to take a look at our Tips for Survey Design.
Other than that, let us know if you have any questions or tips for writing survey answers to be added to this list.