Quick Guide: How to Write Effective Questions

Looking to add a couple of custom questions to your survey? Follow these guidelines for effective survey questions.

In this article: 


Quantum Workplace provides a vast gallery of best-practice surveys that cover a variety of topics and events relevant to any organization. These include Employee Engagement, New Hire & Exit Surveys, as well as other topics like Diversity & Inclusion, Benefits, and Change Management. 

If you want to customize a survey with a question or two of your own, the following guidelines will help you create effective and insightful questions.  

See the following links for more articles on building a more effective survey. 

Use Specific Language

Avoid using language that leaves the meaning of the question vague or open for interpretation. This can skew responses and doesn't provide you with meaningful insight. 

Consider the following example: 

Dogs are awesome. 

  • Participant A who loves dogs and thinks that Awesome is the most positive response might respond to a scaled question with Strongly Agree
  • Participant B might love dogs as much as Participant A but perceive Awesome as only slightly more positive than average. They could potentially respond to the scaled question with Disagree because they think dogs are spectacular. 

Clearly defined questions give you more clarity around the participants' perceptions of the question and more impactful insights for you to act on. 

Average: Dogs are awesome.

Effective: Dogs are superior to cats. 

Use Simple Language

Language that includes complex vocabulary, noninclusive jargon, or slang can easily confuse participants and distract from the essence of the question.

Writing questions at an 8th-grade reading level is generally recommended as a best practice for a more clear and more effective survey question. This can be helpful for respondents for whom English is a second language. 

If your survey will be translated, it's especially important to use words and phrases that will translate well, i.e. use clear language and avoid using idioms or figures of speech

Use Inclusive Language

Surveys are an excellent opportunity for employees to share their feedback, opinions, and ideas. It's important that the survey language doesn't disrespect or dismiss an individual's personal identity.

For example, if a survey question includes pronouns, use they/them, rather than he/him or she/her. 

Also, avoid gender-specific terms, i.e. crewman, chairman, etc., and use gender-neutral terms instead, i.e. crewmember, chairperson, etc.

Ask About One Idea at a Time

Questions that ask two things at once can be problematic as survey questions, as a respondent can agree with one aspect but not the other. These should be divided into individual questions.

Average: Dogs and cats are great family pets. 

Effective: (1) Dogs are great family pets. (2) Cats are great familiy pets.  

    Avoid Asking Biased Questions

    Survey questions should not have a secondary or underlying motive. Use clear language to encourage respondents to provide their honest opinions and feedback.

    Average: We love dogs! Do you agree dogs should be allowed in the office? 

    Effective: Do you believe dogs should be allowed in the office? 

    Keep All Questions Optional

    Mandatory questions can frustrate survey participants and result in poor and skewed data. 

    Keep your questions optional and allow respondents to skip questions they don't feel they can answer. 

    Limit Time-Consuming Questions

    Ranked questions and open-ended questions can produce valuable insights but take longer to respond to. This can cause respondents to opt out before completing the survey. 

    Prioritize scaled questions, which are the quickest question type to respond to, and limit your survey to one-three other types of questions. 

    Phrase Scaled Agreement Questions as Positive Statements 

    To encourage respondents to respond with Agree or Strongly Agree, phrase scaled agreement questions as a positive statement. This results in more clarity and more insightful data. 

    Average: I do not feel like I can depend on the other members of my team. 

    Effective: I know I can depend on the other members of my team.