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Getting the most out of a survey

A survey is a great way to capture a large amount of data. Unfortunately, surveys are often not as effective as they could be because of poorly worded questions.

2016 Available in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish

Footsteps magazine issues on a wooden desk.

From: Impact and change – Footsteps 100

How positive change happens and how best to measure it

A survey is a great way to capture a large amount of data. Unfortunately, surveys are often not as effective as they could be because of poorly worded questions.  

Nine top tips for designing surveys

1 Think about your target audience

  • Consider which language to ask your questions in and whether you will need translation.
  • Use simple language and avoid jargon. 

2 Think about the order of your questions

  • Make sure the questions flow in a logical order.
  • Start with the simple and interesting questions.
  • Place the sensitive questions last. 

3 Do not ask too many questions

  • If you are not going to use the answer to a question, do not ask it. Do not ask questions if they are only for interest. 

4 Let respondents skip questions that do not apply to them

  • For example: ‘If you have not used the health centre, move to question 5.’ 

5 Avoid questions that are too demanding or take too long to answer

  • Do not ask too many open questions that require written responses, as this may put people off. 

6 Get someone to check through your questions

  • It is harder to spot your own mistakes. 

7 Test and then adjust your questionnaire

  • Allow enough time for testing your questionnaire with a smaller group. This may reveal problems, eg confusing questions. 

8 Allow time for training the people who will be carrying out the survey

  • Make sure the people collecting the data fully understand the questions and how to record the answers. 

9 Think about how you will collect and analyse the responses

  • Will you collect data using pen and paper, or digital methods? (See page 6.)
  • How will you store, analyse and use the information?


You could use this activity with a group. Cover the right-hand side of this activity box and discuss why the example survey questions are unhelpful. Then ask the group, ‘How could the questions be improved?’

Survey activity

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