10 Common Problems with Survey Design & How To Avoid Them

Surveys are an invaluable tool for gathering feedback and insights from customers, employees and other stakeholders, which is why survey design matters!

When done right, surveys can provide valuable data that helps organizations make informed decisions that improve their products or services.

However, designing a survey is not as straightforward as it might seem – there are many pitfalls to avoid if you want to get the most out of your survey.

Let’s dive into some common problems made in survey design so that you can learn how to identify them and prevent them from happening in your own surveys. Plus, some best practices for creating effective surveys that will yield high-quality results.

By understanding these key concepts and following our advice, you’ll be able to create surveys that accurately capture what you need while avoiding potential problems along the way.

Understanding Survey Design

Survey design is the process of creating surveys that are both comprehensive and valid. It involves looking at different survey elements such as survey questions, response scales, answer choices, and reporting formats to ensure that the survey is suitable for its purpose.

When designing a survey, researchers consider factors such as the target audience, data collection method, question types, and data analysis techniques to ensure that the survey is comprehensive and valid.

When organizing a survey and considering options for survey design, these are a few factors to keep in mind:

  • Identifying the target audience: Who are you trying to reach with your survey? Consider their demographics, interests, and any other criteria that might help you better understand who they are.
  • Choosing the right format: How will your survey be delivered? Online surveys usually work best, but it’s important to consider other potential options such as paper surveys or telephone interviews.
  • Crafting the right questions: What types of questions should you include in your survey? Open-ended questions are great for capturing detailed feedback, while closed-ended questions can be used to capture more quantitative data.
  • Establishing an appropriate response scale: How will people be able to express their opinions or feelings? Consider the type of response scale you want to use (e.g., Likert scale, semantic differential scale, etc.)
  • Analyzing and interpreting the data: How will you analyze the survey results? Will you use descriptive statistics or inferential statistics? It’s important to decide this ahead of time so that you can ensure the analysis is valid.

With a basic plan in place, you can begin to approach the survey design process, shaping success. However, it’s not uncommon to run into a few problems along the way. Here are a few survey design problems that you’ll want to keep in mind.

Common Problems with Survey Design

1. Too Many Questions

One of the most obvious mistakes that people make when designing surveys is asking too many questions.

If a survey is too long or contains too many questions, it’s likely to cause survey fatigue – respondents will either abandon the survey before completing it or rush through their answers without giving much thought, resulting in inaccurate data.

To ensure your respondents are engaged and focused on giving accurate responses, try to keep the survey as short and concise as possible.

Think carefully about which questions are truly necessary and focus on those first, then add additional questions if needed.

2. Too Few Questions

On the other hand, having too few questions can also lead to inaccurate results if it doesn’t provide enough detail or information.

While it’s important to keep your surveys as concise as possible, make sure you don’t cut out too many questions that could give you valuable insights.

Try to balance between asking enough questions without being overly long or overwhelming for respondents.

3. Not Testing Your Survey

Testing your survey before sending it out is key to ensuring that it works properly and yields accurate results.

You should test the survey yourself with a few people in order to identify any potential problems, such as questions that are too confusing or unclear.

Having other people take the survey will also help you determine if it’s too long or if the questions are biased in any way.

4. Question Priming

Question priming is another common issue to watch out for when designing surveys. This occurs when a survey question influences the responses given to subsequent questions, resulting in inaccurate data.

To prevent this from happening, make sure that any sensitive or potentially controversial topics are addressed before asking related questions.

That way, respondents won’t be influenced by what came previously and can give more honest and accurate answers.

5. Unclear Wording

Make sure that all of your survey questions are clearly and accurately worded. If respondents don’t understand what you’re asking, they won’t be able to give accurate answers, resulting in inaccurate data.

Check the grammar, spelling, and punctuation in your survey questions before sending them out to ensure they’re easy to understand.

6. Catering to Social Desirability

Social desirability is another common issue to watch out for when designing surveys. This occurs when respondents give answers that they think will be viewed more favorably instead of their true opinion.

To avoid this, make sure all questions are objective and don’t require people to share details about themselves that may cause them to feel uncomfortable.

Additionally, encourage honesty by emphasizing that all responses will remain confidential.

7. Lack of Visual Markers

Adding visuals to your survey can help respondents better understand the questions and make it easier for them to answer.

Visual markers like images, icons, or graphs can also help break up the text of the survey and make it more engaging.

Another favored trend is having a progress bar or similar visual method that helps you to see how far along in the survey you are and what is left.

8. Not Offering Enough Options

When creating multiple-choice questions, it’s important to provide enough options for respondents to choose from.

If you give too few answer choices, respondents may not be able to accurately express their opinion or identify the best option that fits their situation.

On the other hand, having too many choices can also lead to confusion and inaccurate data. When anticipating a wide-range of answers, it may be best to opt for an open-ended format where participants can answer freely.

9. Asking More Than One Question at a Time

Another common mistake when creating surveys is asking more than one question at a time. This can lead to confusion and cause respondents to answer inaccurately or even skip questions altogether.

Make sure each question only covers one topic so that respondents know exactly what they should be focusing on in order to give an accurate response.

Having one question at a time also helps to add to the sleekness of a survey and can be less overwhelming for participants.

10. Not Enough Space for Respondents to Explain

Sometimes it’s important to provide respondents with an opportunity to further explain their answers.

Adding an open-ended question or a comment box at the end of your survey can give respondents the chance to elaborate on certain topics and share more detailed feedback.

This additional information can be very useful in understanding why people gave certain responses, and can provide valuable insights for improving your survey in the future.

tablet screen with a mock survey on it. (survey design)

Best Tips for an Effective Survey

A well-executed survey should provide you with accurate insights to help inform your decisions. Here are a few tips for creating a clear plan before launching your survey to ensure that you get the most out of it.

Here are some best practices for creating effective surveys so you can maximize their value and achieve success with your research.

1. Understand Your Goals

Before you begin creating your survey, it’s important to understand what the purpose of the survey is and what you hope to learn from it.

Identifying key questions upfront can help guide the development of your survey. It’s also helpful to think about who you plan on targeting with your survey, as well as how you are going to analyze the collected data.

2. Keep Your Questions Clear and Concise

It’s important to make sure that your survey questions are clear and easy for respondents to understand.

Short, simple sentences can help ensure people quickly get what they need from each question. You should also avoid complex language or industry jargon that could be confusing.

3. Include Open-Ended Questions

Including open-ended questions in your survey can provide you with valuable insights that may not be revealed by multiple-choice or rating scale questions.

Open-ended questions allow respondents to provide more detailed feedback and help you better understand their perspectives.

4. Provide Options for Respondents

When creating multiple-choice questions, it’s important to provide enough options for respondents to choose from.

Make sure your answers reflect the range of possible responses and include “other” or “I don’t know” options where appropriate.

5. Test and Review Your Survey

Once you’ve completed your survey, it’s important to take the time to review and test it before launching.

Ask a few people who are not part of your target audience to take the survey and provide feedback on how it can be improved. This will help ensure the questions are clear and easy to understand.

6. Consider Your Response Rate

Once you’ve launched your survey, it’s important to monitor how many people are responding and make sure that the response rate is sufficient for your needs.

If you find that the response rate is low, consider offering incentives or making changes to your survey design in order to encourage more participation.

7. Ambiguous Questions

It’s also crucial to make sure that all of the questions are clear and easy to understand. If a question is vague or open-ended, it can lead to confusion and inaccurate responses from respondents.

To ensure all questions are clear and unambiguous, double-check that they’re worded properly and free of any confusing language.

This is especially important when it comes to cross-cultural surveys. Read our complete guide, Global Surveys: Challenges, Considerations, & Tips for Success.

8. Biased Questions

Bias in survey design is also a common mistake – people often create questions that lead respondents to give the “right” answers, instead of allowing them to freely express their true feelings and opinions.

To avoid this issue, make sure your questions are objective and don’t lead people in any particular direction. Ask neutral closed and open-ended questions that allow for a variety of responses without guiding the respondent into giving specific answers.

9. Analyzing the Results

Once you have collected enough survey responses, it’s time to analyze the results and draw conclusions from them.

Consider using statistical methods or visualizations to help make sense of the data and identify any patterns or insights that can be used to inform your decisions.


Creating an effective survey can be a tricky process, especially when factoring in the importance of survey design.

By avoiding common survey design pitfalls, you can ensure that your survey is accurate and yields useful data.

Additionally, don’t forget to include visuals or open-ended questions in order to get the most out of each respondent’s feedback.

With these tips in mind, you should have no problem crafting surveys that lead to meaningful insights for your business.


Q: How long should a survey be?

A: The length of a survey depends on the type of data you are trying to collect. Generally speaking, surveys should be as short as possible while still collecting the necessary information. A good rule of thumb is that a survey should take no longer than 10 minutes for the respondent to complete.

Q: How do I make sure my survey is accessible to everyone?

A: It’s important to ensure that your surveys are accessible to all respondents, regardless of their physical or mental ability. Accessibility can be done by making sure the language used in the survey is easy to understand, providing visual markers and including alternative input methods such as voice recordings or text-to-speech. Remember that accessibility also covers access to the survey itself; make sure any online surveys are optimized for mobile devices and available in multiple languages if necessary.

Q: What can I do with survey data?

A: Survey data can be used for a variety of purposes, such as identifying trends in consumer behavior, understanding customer satisfaction and uncovering potential areas of improvement. Survey data can be used to inform decisions on products or services and even guide marketing strategies. No matter what you need the data for, it’s important to make sure it is accurate and comprehensive in order to get the most out of it.