Question design guidelines

In this article we'll discuss the following:

Question design

Good question design is a fundamental aspect of preparing successful online survey activities. Ensuring your questions are as relevant, well-formatted and incisive as possible will help to create user friendly activities which extract useful data. 

Your wording should be clear so questions can be interpreted the same way by respondents regardless of background, education level or digital fluency. Explain questions and references where required as informed respondents provide you with answers which can effectively inform decision making. 

Below are some examples of good and bad question design. 

This Not This Why
How do you rate our product? How do you rate our product and service? Double-barrelled questions only allow one response to two queries and are difficult to analyse
Please rate the changes to the service Please rate the improvements to the service It's important to keep questions neutral so respondents don't feel restricted in their answer
What do you have for breakfast? What do you have for breakfast every day? Making assumptions in questions can limit the number of respondents who feel able to answer
Any further comments relating to this section? Any further comments regarding this consultation/topic? Avoiding ambiguity in questions will help respondents feel confident they know what you're asking
Do you approve of the changes proposed? Please choose from the options below Do you approve of the changes proposed? Please answer in the box below Asking a quantitative question using a qualitative answer component results in data that is hard to analyse. Consider separating questions like this with two answer components
How could the council communicate more effectively with residents? How could the RCT better implement their public outreach campaign?   Avoid jargon or unnecessary acronyms as it's likely to confuse and alienate respondents

Choosing the correct question type


A close-ended question, which asks the respondent to choose the answer most appropriate to them from a set list of options. Quantitative questions will typically provide a good basic understanding of what respondents think but aren't able to provide any context. This also makes them easier to analyse, as the various options can be graphed and easily broken down.


An open-ended question is one that allows respondents to formulate an answer on their own terms. As a result, a qualitative question can uncover more about why a person holds a particular opinion. Open-ended questions do allow respondents to interpret the question in their own way and can result in answers that wander off topic, so providing prompts and information is important to try to keep them on track.

Top tip: Often the best solution is to utilise a combination of both question types, using a quantitative answer component with an additional free text box prompting a qualitative expansion on their answer.


Too many required questions can alienate your respondents. Identify in the planning stage what you need from the data to be required and leave the rest as optional questions. 

Using the appropriate answer components

Choosing the appropriate answer components is an important step in creating a user friendly consultation or engagement activity. Used effectively they can help to:

  • Make a questions structure feel familiar to respondents
  • Give respondents a level of comfort when answering
  • Provide information relevant to a specific question
  • Determine the type of data your questions will extract

Linked below are some articles to help guide you on what different answer components are intended for and when it's appropriate to use them.

In summary

Ask yourself when formulating questions:

  1. Are your questions as clear and concise enough for all respondents to understand?
  2. Have you provided supporting documentation and explanations so that respondents can provide informed responses?
  3. Have you used neutral language to avoid biased or leading questions?
  4. Have you chosen the right type of question and answer component(s) to extract the data you're after?

If you can keep these basic rules in mind then you should be on the way to an online survey with a smooth and simple respondent journey and one that creates valuable data for you to analyse.

You may also find our article about creating accessible online activities useful.