Whether you’re carrying out an in-house initiative, or undertaking a door-to-door campaign in your community, here are 5 best practices to keep in mind when designing your survey.

1. Be super clear and neutral

Your aim is to get accurate information from those you are going to survey. So choose and phrase your questions carefully, and make sure that they’re clear and accessible to your audience.

  • Avoid complex or ambiguous words, and obscure jargon/acronyms/abbreviations.❌ What R.O.I. do you expect from your financial contribution?✅ What benefits do you expect from your financial contribution?
  • Check for biased or loaded expressions — words with strong connotations or political party association can heavily influence a respondent’s answers.❌ Do you think the new legislation is an example of the nanny state?✅ Do you think the new legislation is a good government intervention?

  • Be aware of how you formulate your questions. Are you being implicitly negative about the topic? Are you including extra information that could skew answers? To avoid this, be concise and watch the adjectives you use.

❌ How do you feel about organic food labels, which are very difficult for small farmers to obtain?✅ What is your opinion on organic food labels and what farmers need to do to obtain them?

2. Don’t forget: it’s like a conversation

Remember that your survey will be asked orally by your team members on the ground, so keep your questions as natural and engaging as possible.

  • The first question is an ice-breaker: don’t start with a tough one!
  • Make it flow. Questions should be in a logical, thoughtful order, and they should be kept to a common-sense minimum — in order to avoid boring/frustrating the respondent.

Mobile polling

So:

➡ check that each question is actually needed and not repetitive

➡ group questions by topic

➡ be mindful that initial questions can create context and influence the answers to the following ones

➡ inject some variety into your question types

  • Keep any risky, wild-card question(s) for the end: do not leave the most important questions for the end (as the respondent will be less focused) — but you can use your last question(s) for more provocative or creative questions (as you will have already obtained your key info in previous questions).

3. Be strategic with answer choices

The way you present the answer choices will affect your respondent’s reactions and answers.

  • Closed or open choice? Leaving the answer completely open to the respondent can be overwhelming to them, while multiple choice can limit them. A good compromise is for you to provide multiple choice answers, but include an ‘other’ option in case the respondent does not find any of the choices satisfactory.

Don’t overload…

  • Don’t overload. You should not give more than 4-5 answer choices, unless it’s a ‘factual’ answer like education level or job title.
  • Define the scale. If you are asking for an answer on a number scale, or that the respondent rank their answer choices, be very clear on what the numbers represent (ex: 1 is ‘very unsatisfied’, 10 is ‘very satisfied’).

4. Beware of common response biases

When designing your survey, keep in mind some of the most typical response biases, including:

  • Acquiescence bias: asking ‘agree vs. disagree’ tends to provoke more ‘agree’ answers.
  • Social desirability bias: depending on wording, people may choose certain answers to ‘look good’, so try to phrase the question without any implied value judgment.
  • Order/recency effects: the order of answer choices influences respondents — orally, they tend to choose one of the last, more ‘recent’ answer choices — so, consider changing/randomizing the order with each person.

5. Prepare for a great in-person experience

Above all, design your survey to be a POSITIVE EXPERIENCE 🎈✨ 🚀on the ground — for your team members asking the questions, and for the respondents answering them.

This will help get the best results from your survey, keep your team members motivated and involved long-term, and create a good impression and connection with the people you are surveying (which will help further their engagement with your cause).

Practice in front of your mirror


Finally, make sure that your team members know the survey well (they should practice asking the questions out loud and try testing it out with friends or other team members), and if possible provide training to increase their confidence and skills in outreach/campaigning — so that they can get out there and DO! ✊

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