Quick Guide: How to Write Effective Questions

Looking to add a couple custom questions to your survey? Follow these guidelines to ensure your questions are effective.


Quantum Workplace provides best practice surveys for you to utilize, including our Employee Engagement Survey, New Hire and Exit Surveys, and surveys on a variety of topics such as  Diversity & Inclusion, Benefits, and Change Management. If you want to customize any survey by adding 1-2 of your own questions, follow these guidelines to ensure your questions are effective. 

1. Use specific language.

Using language that leaves the meaning of the question vague or open for interpretation can skew responses. Consider the following example item: 

Dogs are awesome. 

Someone who loves dogs and thinks that "awesome" is the top of the scale might respond Strongly Agree. Another respondent might equally love dogs, but think "awesome" is just a little above average and say Disagree because dogs are spectacular! Questions that are clearly defined will give you a clearer understanding of your employees' perceptions and empower you to take action on results. 

Average: Dogs are awesome.

Awesome: Dogs are superior to cats.

2. Ask about one thing at a time.

Double-barreled questions (questions that ask about two things at once) can be problematic if the respondent agrees with one aspect of the question but not the other. Instead of asking two questions in one, ask the two questions individually. 

Average: Dogs and cats are great family pets. 


(1) Dogs are great family pets.

(2) Cats are great family pets.

3. Use simple language.

Difficult vocabulary, slang, or jargon can confuse respondents or be misconstrued. We recommend writing employee survey questions at an 8th-grade reading level and using words that can be easily understood by those reading English as a 2nd language. If your survey will be translated, consider using words that translate well (e.g., avoid idioms).

4. Avoid biasing respondents.

Asking for your employees’ opinions should be void of any ulterior motive. Let survey respondents' opinions be pure so that you get honest responses.

Average: We think dogs are awesome! Do you agree we should allow dogs to visit the office?

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

5. Make all questions optional.

Forcing responses can frustrate your survey respondents and lead to bad data. Keep your responses optional so that respondents are able to skip questions that they don't feel able to answer. 

6. Limit time-consuming questions.

Rank questions and open-ended questions can produce valuable insights, but they take longer to respond to, which can cause respondents to drop off before completing the survey. Prioritize scaled questions (which are the quickest question type to respond to) and limit your survey to 1-3 other types of questions.

7. Phrase all scaled agreement items as positive statements.

We recommend phrasing all of the scaled agreement items you include as positive statements such that you want your survey-takers to be able to respond with "Agree" or "Strongly Agree" to every item. For example, we'd recommend phrasing your item as "I know I can depend on the other members of my team," as opposed to "I do not feel like I can depend on the other members of my team." 

8. Be inclusive with language.

Surveys are a great opportunity to give individuals an opportunity to share their feedback, opinions, and ideas. It’s important that specific survey language does not disrespect or dismiss an individual’s personal identity, offsetting the good intent of helping individuals feel heard.

If using pronouns in survey items, use “they/them” instead of “he/him” or “she/her.” Also, avoid using words like “crewman” or “chairman” and replace them with gender-neutral alternatives such as crewmember or chairperson.

See Also: 

Designing your Employee Engagement Survey
Quick Guide: How to Choose the Right Question Types for your Survey