Designing an Online Survey

With so many different types of surveys and questionnaires, covering a wide range of topics and conducted for a multitude of reasons it is difficult to devise the definitive guide to designing a survey.

However, whether the survey is to gauge customer or employee satisfaction, whether it is being used for market research or even marketing research, has an academic aspect or is part of a medical study or simply being used to sample public opinion there are some design considerations that are common to them all.


Right from the start, for any type of survey, the survey’s goals and objectives must be established.

A survey’s Raison d’ĂȘtre must be its objectives, that in turn will help define the questions to be asked, and the manner that the respondent is required to respond.

However, just establishing the objectives is not enough, it is important to use the objectives to challenge every question and asked, ‘Does this question contribute towards achieving the survey’s stated objectives?’.

Clearly state the survey’s objectives and continually refer back to them to ensure that the survey does not at any time and in any way deviate from achieving the objectives.

Can the respondent answer truthfully?

This might seem a strange consideration but it is common to see surveys containing questions where certain respondents, through no fault of their own, or any reluctance on their part, are unable to answer truthfully.

Normally this is the result of the people who have designed the survey asking questions from their own perspective, experience and knowledge, or where the question has been mandatory but the answer options do not cater for all possible answers.

For example take a question like ‘Please indicate what class you usually travel?’, where the answer options are ‘First’, ‘Business’, ‘Economy’.

Setting aside that carriers invent their own categories such as ‘Premium’ that would make it difficult for the respondent to determine if ‘Premium’ was more akin to ‘Business’ than ‘Economy’, more serious is if the question was made mandatory it does not cater for those that may not have travelled, in which case for them to continue with the survey they would have to select one answer option forcing them to not answer truthfully.

Check each question from a respondent’s perspective, and ensure that they can answer truthfully.

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