13 must-know survey question types for effective polls in 2023
If you're looking for the definitive guide to survey question types in 2023, you're in the right place.
As you likely know, creating effective surveys demands asking the right questions. Otherwise, you'll end up with messy data that does nothing to meet your needs.
In this article, you'll learn everything about survey questions, including key types and best use cases. And if you're looking to drill down even deeper, we'll discuss survey question types you should never ask and the best practices for effective surveys.
With that said, let's dig in!
What are the main classes of survey question types?
There are two main types of survey questions - closed questions and open questions.
Closed questions are a popular option for pollsters. This is because they limit the respondent's answers to a closed list of options.
On the other hand, open questions give respondents the freedom to answer in their own words. So, although they give your audience more to do (it's easier to click one option and move on), you'll gain way more context.
Apart from these, there are 13 specific question types you can adapt for your poll. We'll discuss these below and share tips on when (and how) to use them effectively.
1. Multiple-choice questions
If there were a popularity contest for survey question types, multiple choice questions would be homecoming queen. And they're popular for a good reason.
Multiple-choice questions let you set the conversation. Respondents choose from a list of answers you have defined, ensuring you'll get answers relevant to your needs. They're great for short quizzes or tests and produce easy-to-analyze results.
These questions may require single answers or multiple answers. Single-answer questions allow respondents to pick only one response from a list of choices. They often use a radio button format, while multiple-answer questions allow more than one answer using a checkbox format. Here's what they look like:
Pro tip: You can collect more contextual information by including an "other" field where respondents can add answers that aren't on the list. You'll gain the most from this tactic when trying to learn more about your audience or the subject matter.
When to use multiple-choice questions
Multiple-choice questions are an excellent choice in the following scenarios:
- When you intend to create graphs and trends based on the responses. They provide neat, tidy answers that feed nicely into your analytics tools.
- For a stress-free survey. Respondents will find it easier to glide through the poll when they don't have to think too deeply about their responses. It also makes for a faster completion time.
- To launch open-ended questions. Because they're effortless to answer, multiple-choice questions get your audience nice and ready for the odd open question.
2. Rating scale questions
Also called ordinal questions, rating scale questions let respondents pick from a scale of answer options within a range. The scale can be as short (1 to 10) or long (0 to 100) as you want it to be.
These questions are excellent for gauging audience sentiment with questions like "How much do you like chicken?" or "how many stars would you give Hair Wonder?"
However, don't forget to include some context so participants know that 1 means "Hate it" and 10 means "Love it."
Maintaining a single scale throughout your survey is also a good idea. This way, you can compare the responses across board and draw consistent conclusions.
When to use them
Consider employing rating scale questions if you:
- Need a fast and hard read on what your audience is thinking. Rating scale questions don't provide much context though, so keep that in mind when applying this survey question type.
- Want to add a fun aspect to your survey? You can represent the scale in different formats (colors, emoticons, or numbers) to increase engagement. For instance, you could ask, "How would you rate this design on our poo-o-meter?"
3. Likert scale questions
Similar to a rating scale, Likert scale questions can help get a read on survey respondents' opinions. But unlike rating scales, these questions typically use a 3, 5, or 7-point scale.
Respondents will choose answers based on how much they agree or disagree with a statement. Alternatively, the question can ask respondents to answer according to how intensely they feel about something.
Likert scales can also have responses from "Strongly Disagree" to "Strongly Agree."
Remember, how you frame questions is key when using a Likert scale. For instance, a question like "Do you feel affected by our 5% price hike?" doesn't really fit. This is more a "Yes" or "No" question better suited to establishing that the respondent was affected.
Instead, you should ask, "How affected are you by our 5% price hike?" Here, responses could range from "Eh, I'll survive" to "You're killing me here!"
When to use
Likert scale questions are a great option if you want insight into what your audience is thinking.
However, consider using them only when you have established a baseline. For instance, if a user has enjoyed your service, it makes sense to ask, "How satisfied were you with our beard oil?"
But a respondent that has not enjoyed the service will clearly not be able to answer.
4. Matrix questions
With the name "matrix," you already know what to expect with this question. While participants won't be leaping over tall buildings in a single bound here, matrix questions require some mental exertion.
Matrix questions combine several questions under a single scale. Here's what they look like:
An immediate benefit of these questions is they let you shorten your survey. Instead of nine separate questions with their own scales, you can put them under one scale.
However, this can be a less than fun experience - for obvious reasons.
When to use
Matrix questions have a tendency to complicate surveys, so use them carefully.
- Ideally, use them for only 2-4 questions at a time. The more questions you include in your matrix, the more confusing they will be to complete.
- If your survey allows, use a different question type. It's probably better to splurge on the extra space that five separate questions require than to lose willing respondents because the survey was difficult to complete.
Pro tip: Watch out for how the matrix question performs on a mobile device. Due to their smaller screen sizes, viewing or completing a matrix survey on a smartphone may be harder.
5. Dropdown questions
Dropdown questions allow respondents to choose from a list of predefined answers. They're great for questions with lots of options like, "What US state are you from?" You can easily display all the states in the US without overwhelming your audience.
In addition, dropdown questions provide responses that are easy to analyze. You can deliver a wide range of options but still enjoy the benefits of a simple multiple-choice question.
When to use
- Dropdown questions work admirably well when you're looking to save space. They condense what would have been a long list of options into a single line.
- They also help make your survey simpler and easier to complete. Questions with lengthy options will fatigue respondents and increase the likelihood that they'll abandon the survey.
6. Open-ended questions
You'll love this question type if you want additional detail from your audience. Open-ended questions provide a comment box in which respondents type their answers.
They give your audience the opportunity to answer questions in their own words instead of being limited to a closed list of answers. It's also a great way to get a feel for what your audience is actually thinking.
Pro tip: To manage the length of responses, include a word or character limit for each answer.
When to use
As a rule, only apply open-ended questions where you don't need to create a graph or trends from the responses. If you want questions that can be analyzed, closed questions serve your purpose better.
In addition, use these questions to:
- Follow up closed questions. For instance, you can pair "Did you enjoy your meal?" with "What was your favorite part of the meal?" This way, you'll better understand the responses you receive and take away specific (and actionable) feedback.
- Plan your survey. If you don't know much about your audience, open-ended questions can provide the information you need. Employ them to get up-to-date on your respondents so you can create a survey with relevant questions.
7. Demographic questions
Demographic questions help you gather background information about your audience. You can use these questions to learn more about a respondent's location, occupation, or other demographic detail.
With these questions, you gain the tools to segment your audience according to their background information. Based on this, you can unlock deeper insights about your audience and identify valuable trends.
When to use
- To qualify respondents. Suppose you've administered your survey to a general audience. In that case, demographic questions can help you filter for responses that provide the data you need.
8. Ranking questions
Ranking questions let your audience rank a set of options according to their preference. These questions are really cool because they not only tell you what options respondents like, you also gain insight into each option's relative popularity.
Ranking questions are also fun to answer, especially when the survey has interesting questions like "Who are your favorite characters from Game of Thrones?"
When to use
Use ranking questions when:
- You're okay with the survey taking longer to complete. Ranking questions can take relatively more time to answer. So consider other survey question types if you're pressed for time.
- They're exactly what your survey needs. While they can be fun to answer, ranking questions are a bit complicated to apply. So, make sure they're exactly what you need.
9. Image choice questions
This survey question type lets respondents choose from a range of visual options. For instance, you can use them to learn how your audience feels about a logo, an ad, or an image.
When to use
- To learn your audience's evaluation of a visual item. They're perfect for rating the visual qualities of things like logos or ads.
- To gamify the survey and keep participants engaged. It provides a refreshing take on the text-heavy nature of most surveys.
10. Click map questions
Click map questions are an interactive question type that lets respondents provide direct feedback on an image. Like a heatmap, the question prompts your target audience to click on parts of an image to provide an answer.
These are great for on-the-spot assessments like "What's the most appealing item on this shelf?"
When to use
Click map questions are a niche kind of question, so they don't apply in many cases. Use them to:
- Evaluate the visual elements of any subject. You can use this question creatively, such as evaluating the merits of a design or even carrying out A/B testing on two different images.
- Gamify your survey. Respondents will enjoy the rare breather from text-heavy questions.
11. File upload questions
If you need additional data from your respondents, such as a CV or ID card, file upload questions do the job.
Be sure to include file size limits so you receive data that processes easily. You'll also need to specify the required file type, whether that's a PNG, PDF, or JPEG.
When to use
File upload questions have pretty much one use - to collect extra data in the form of uploads. Before including these questions though, ensure you:
- Have the needed manpower and tools to review the uploads. Sorting through tens or hundreds of files can be a lot of work. Invest in tools that help you work faster and more efficiently.
- Collect only information that you need. Most countries have privacy laws that specify how private information should be treated. And you could incur additional obligations depending on the type of data you collect.
12. Slider questions
Slider questions are a more interactive version of a rating or Likert scale question. They involve putting questions on a sliding scale, say from 0 to 10.
These questions offer an opportunity to collect responses more interactively. You'll also gain clear responses that are easy to analyze.
When to use
- Slider questions are a good substitute for rating questions. They achieve the same end, but slider questions are more interactive.
13. Attention-check questions
Concerned that people are just skimming through your survey? Attention-check questions help identify where a respondent's focus is slipping and get them more involved.
Since these questions aren't intended to elicit relevant information, they don't play a role in the actual results of your survey. But they're an excellent tool to help filter responses that might not be genuine.
Here's what the question looks like:
When to use
Attention-check questions have one major use case - to ensure that your respondents are doing more than just skimming through the survey. Consider asking something dirt simple like "what color is grass?"
Apart from this, you can also use attention-check questions to break up long surveys so respondents can come up for air.
Survey question types to avoid
Now that we've covered the top survey question types for polls, how about questions you don't want in your survey?
The goal of a survey is simple - to collect information about an audience that meets your needs. When you ask the right questions, you'll gain access to insights that advance your goals, whether that's for research, marketing, or improving your business.
But the opposite also holds true. If you ask the wrong questions, you're also likely to receive wrong answers. Because, as they say, an answer is only as good as its question.
So, to ensure you're not setting your survey up to fail, here are 6 survey question types you should avoid and why.
1. Loaded questions - because they try to trick your audience
Loaded questions are exactly that - loaded with meanings/conclusions that your respondents may not support.
They are trick questions that may include false premises, create unwarranted relationships between subjects, or push respondents into confirming something they don't agree with.
Often, with loaded questions, respondents provide one answer and find out they've answered two (or more) questions they didn't intend to.
Here's an example of a loaded question:
The question requires the respondent to agree that tomatoes at VFX Mall are of poor quality to answer. It also draws a relationship between poor-quality tomatoes and the respondent's feelings toward sandwiches. And that's a correlation the respondent may not agree with.
2. Double-barreled questions - because they confuse your audience
This question asks two separate things but leaves room for just one answer. So, any response the respondent provides will count twice for two different propositions.
That's malpractice. Besides, it doesn't account for respondents who might want to be rich but not famous.
Surveys can only provide accurate results when the questions are objective. If you want an objective answer to a question like this, then split it up. Otherwise, you'll just end up confusing your audience and collecting questionable data.
3. Leading questions - because they indicate a preferred answer
With a leading question, you're no longer seeking answers. At this point, you're just procuring an agreement with your own position.
That's because leading questions are inherently biased - they impose an answer on your audience. Here's an example:
Another problem with leading questions is that their biased language may trigger emotional responses that create a backlash. Questions relating to public topics like politics and socio-economic issues can have that effect.
Go for neutral and simple questions instead. This way, you'll stimulate conversation, not start a war.
4. Assumptive questions - because they make the wrong assumptions
Even if your assumption was correct for some respondents, it would likely be wrong for others. That automatically puts your survey at risk of collecting incorrect responses.
Further, when these questions make the wrong assumptions, they can put people off completing your survey. For instance, asking, "How do you invest your extra income after paying bills?" assumes that your respondents have that level of earning comfort.
If your assumption is wrong, the person reading the question might feel the survey is irrelevant to them. Plus, you'll come off as someone who doesn't know their audience.
5. Questions that require second-hand knowledge - because they take forever to answer
Respondents should be able to answer your survey immediately. They probably won't come back if they have to go look up the answer.
Example of second-hand knowledge questions:
This question requires your respondent to know their household income - that's not something most people can answer in a minute. And if they have a large household, getting a suitable response will take longer.
Besides, phrases like "in the past month" are vague and should be avoided. It's unclear whether the phrase refers to the past 30 days or the month that just passed.
6. Hypothetical questions - because they'll probably fetch inaccurate answers
The problem with hypothetical questions is their potential to fetch unreliable answers. People are lousy at predictions, their own behavior, or how others might behave. So, you're unlikely to get reliable data, even with questions like:
That said, hypothetical questions can be a useful survey question type if they fall within your purposes. For instance, a survey to find out what people would do if they became President can be a fun and informative way to assess public perception of political office.
How to write effective survey questions
Because the ultimate goal of your survey is to collect relevant information, your questions should elicit quality data.
We've completed the first part of this process - you now know how to create appropriate survey question types (and what questions are a no-no).
But it doesn't end there. Even with nicely-written survey questions, your poll can still fall flat. Your questions should also be effective to ensure you're getting absolute quality responses that fit your needs.
Here are our top tips to make that a reality.
1. Define the objective
Your objective is why you're creating a survey. So, you want to learn why sandwich sales at VFX Mall have fallen recently, or you want to measure public knowledge about headphone use. That's your objective.
When you've defined your objectives, let them guide your approach. You'll craft the survey questions based on those stated goals and measure the questions against these goals to ensure you're on track.
This way, you can ensure that your questions are relevant and elicit the responses you need.
2. Choose the right question types
As you've seen, there are many different types of survey questions. To be clear, you may never need more than four to five of these for your survey.
You should consider which survey question types meet your goals and where they fit best within the poll.
For example, it's probably not effective to include matrix questions in a simple "How did you like your order?" survey.
3. Ask clear questions
Yes, this goes without saying. But surveys can often fall short of this rule.
For example, look at these samples of unclear survey questions:
The author probably didn't expect the questions to look this complex.
A good way to avoid confusion or ambiguity in your survey questions is to be clear, simple, and straight to the point. Don't use jargon if you can avoid it - even if you're targeting a professional audience.
4. Don't preempt your audience
In other words, make sure your questions follow a clear and logical pathway. Here's how that works in practice.
Say you're conducting a survey to understand people's favorite chicken pie recipes. If you just dive right in and ask, "What's your favorite chicken pie recipe?" That would be preempting your audience or putting the cart (or the chicken pie recipe) before the horse.
Instead, you'll build up slowly with the following questions:
- What's your name?
- Do you bake?
- How familiar are you with chicken pie recipes? (Not familiar - moderately familiar - very familiar)
- Which of these chicken pie recipes is your favorite? (provide options with chicken pie recipes or a comment box where respondents can type their answer.)
Best practices for great surveys
We've explained the key survey question types to look out for and handy tips on making them effective. Now, you're all set to go out and create kickass polls.
To round up, we'll share below some of the best practices we've seen for surveys that engage audiences and elicit great responses.
Keep your survey short
That includes not asking too many questions. You should also avoid questions that are too long or complicated to answer.
Think of 6 to 12 questions as the magic quadrant. If you have to go higher, consider splitting the survey into two separate polls instead of just one.
One idea, one question
Really. You don't want your survey turning into an SAT. If any question gets too long, break it down. You should also split up any loaded or double-barreled questions in the survey.
Consider what response will effectively answer the question. For instance, can a respondent answer this question with a simple "Yes" or "No"?
If you can't give a single answer, it's a candidate for splitting up.
Provide a status bar
This way, respondents can see how long they have to go. You can also include a note before the start of the survey, letting respondents know how long the survey should take to fill.
This is more important than most realize. Surveys that take longer than five minutes to complete have a 17% lower response rate.
It also demonstrates good faith. People filling out the survey can see how much time it would take to fill it out and decide if that's time they have to spare.
It's also another interactive element that drives engagement.
Implement branching logic
Branching logic (also called skip logic) lets you deliver questions relevant to each respondent. Here's how it works:
The immediate benefit is that respondents will have a smoother experience. They can receive questions that fit their circumstance without encountering irrelevant questions. It also means they can answer fewer questions and finish faster.
It also has a positive effect on your data quality. You'll receive the correct data off the bat without needing to conduct further analysis.
Consider offering incentives
Incentives can improve survey response rates by 10-15%.
No surprises there, as everyone loves the occasional freebie. You can offer things like gift cards, free products, free shipping - really, anything free that might interest your audience is fair game.
Optimize for mobile
About 59% of all internet traffic comes from mobile users. The odds are likely that the people filling out your survey would do it on a mobile device.
With the increase in people having online experiences via mobile devices, you simply must optimize your survey for mobile.
Test where possible
Do a dry run with friends, family, co-workers, anybody. You'll learn lots about what works and what doesn't.
And the test run will give you the insights you need to tweak your survey accordingly.
Adjust where necessary
Don't be afraid to make adjustments - to your questions, the survey structure or even ask whether you really need a survey.
Better to tweak now and gain a clear direction than run a faulty survey and get terrible results.
A successful survey starts with knowing what question types to use and when. Once you're familiar with them, you'll understand how to adapt them for your purposes and collect higher-quality data.