The Science Behind Successful Online Surveys – Part I

Cristina Petrica

by Cristina Petrica

Focus: survey content & structure

Surveys provide you with insights that can have a major impact on a company’s development. In fact, if you don’t understand your target audience, your road to success might take a lot longer than expected.

Generally, surveys are used for market research, customer satisfaction, psychology tests or employee engagement. However, you can also send out surveys for plenty of other purposes.

To help you rock with your next survey, we’ve put together a best practices cluster, focusing on how to conceive and deliver your survey content.

Know your goals

Naturally, you have a plan – you know, next steps based on survey results. It’s only logical to craft your questions so that they are relevant for that specific objective. You should ask only the essential questions that will collect you actionable data. Also, it’s key to direct your questions to the specific demographic groups you target. Getting many responses is not your goal. Getting relevant responses, on the other hand, is.

Start with a short description

Respondents should be made aware of the survey’s purpose and how the data will be used. State your intentions and provide instructions in 1-2 brief paragraphs, if possible. Another useful thing to include here would be a realistic estimate of the time it’ll take to answer your questionnaire.

Whatever you do, stress the importance of accuracy – after all, if they think they can make a difference, people will be more encouraged to lend a hand.

Be as clear as day

Always use simple and specific language throughout your surveys. Avoid jargon, technical terms, acronyms. You want to be as friendly as possible and address people with various backgrounds. It goes without saying that poorly written questions don’t get measurable results (e.g. double-barrelled questions – see screenshot below). Also, avoid leading your respondents with biased questions – stay objective in order to get that real data you crave for.  

successful online surveys

Keep your surveys short and engaging

Experts say that surveys should take 5 minutes or less to complete. In fact, the more questions you ask, the more your survey abandon rate will increase. So stick to the essence and don’t ask too much. And in order for respondents to stay engaged until the end, it’s essential to construct a logical survey flow, removing any confusing or frustrating questions. Here’s where conditional logic kicks in – use it to skip certain questions based on previous answers.  

The science behind your first questions

It goes without saying that your questionnaire should not scare people off. Start with simple questions. But you will want to follow them with those really important ones, as respondents’ attention span tends to lower halfway through a survey. So make sure your most burning interests are placed in the first part of your survey structure.

Think your scales and stay consistent

Likert scales are the regulars of surveys, as they measure sentiment with a greater degree of nuance. When crafting the survey statements, use a certain model (e.g. 5 point scale) and stick with it for the rest of your questionnaire.

In 123FormBuilder you can also enable star ratings for your questions.

survey question examples

Keep those options open

Let’s face it, we often come across surveys where the questions don’t cover our specific situation. Or they’re simply too private. To prevent respondents from either checking a random response or dropping out of the survey, you can include an option for Other or I’d rather not answer.

Types of survey questions

Surveys can include a number of different question types. Closed questions are the ones to go with for the most part of your survey since they are easier to respond to.

Some examples of closed-ended questions:

  • multiple choice questions
  • image choice questions
  • Likert scale questions
  • rating stars
  • yes/no questions.

Try to avoid yes/no questions as much as possible though, as they won’t capture fine nuances.  

How to end your survey

Keep more personal questions (e.g. gender, age, ethnicity, income) for the end of your survey. It’s important to know your demographics, but ask yourself which questions you absolutely need to ask. Don’t forget to include that I prefer not to answer checkbox, just to make sure you don’t alienate respondents at the very end.

And while it’s a good idea to limit your open-ended questions in order to prevent survey abandon, one or two such questions are actually recommended at the end. Why? Just to give respondents a voice in case they have something to add, comment or suggest.

Stay tuned to read about survey design best practices and how you can easily build your surveys with 123FormBuilder.


Cristina Petrica

by Cristina Petrica 123FormBuilder

Cristina is a Content Writer for 123FormBuilder. She helps the company communicate the product through blog posts, landing pages, brochures, infographics, and email marketing messages. She's always eager to learn new skills, so when she's not writing she's brushing up on UX Design principles or flirting with photography.

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