Types Of Survey Questions: A Comprehensive Guide

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Vrinda Singh

Want to gather information, valuable insights and data from your customers? Well, you better make sure you've put the right survey questions in place to help you do so.

But what are "good survey questions"? Are they close-ended questions? Yes or no? Or do you need to channel your inner Keanu Reeves and ask Matrix questions?

The answer depends on two factors: what data you want to collect and who your audience is. Once you find these things out you'll be able to find the right questions to meet your goals.  

To help you with that process, we've put together a list of the most popular survey questions and what they're best suited for, as well as some tips for writing successful surveys of your own. But first. . .

A Note On Open And Closed-Ended Questions

Before we get into all the weird and wonderful survey question types, we've got to look at the two different formats that all questions fall under.

There are two: open-ended questions and closed-ended questions. Any of the question types, from point scales to multiple choice, are categorised under one of the above terms. So what do they mean?

A closed-ended question gives respondents a preset list of answers to choose from, limiting possible responses to whatever choices they're given. These questions help categorise responses, uncover patterns and identify any statistical trends.

Closed-ended survey question examples:

  • Did you watch The Matrix yesterday?
  • Do you speak French?
  • Are you an Apple user?

An open-ended question leaves the ball in your respondents' court, allowing them to provide unique answers in their own words. This allows you to get deeper insights into your respondents thoughts and perspectives and are ideal for market research, feedback and user testing surveys.

Open-ended survey question examples:

  • What's a memorable experience from high school?
  • How would you define customer loyalty?
  • How could we improve this questionnaire?

It's likely that you'll need a combination of both closed and open-ended questions to create a successful survey. The key is to use the right type for each situation.

For example, if you're trying to categorise your respondents based on their age, it's best to ask this as a closed-ended question rather than an open-ended one. Whereas if you wanted someone to review a film, open-ended is the way to go.

Types of survey questions

Below we've collected the most different types of survey questions. You'll find specific examples and use cases under each, as well as some handy Paperform templates to kickstart the survey design process along the way.

Multiple choice questions

Good for: Quickly collecting data that's easy to analyse.

Multiple choice questions are exactly what the term suggests: they give folks multiple answers to select from a predefined list. If you've ever done an exam of any type you'll be familiar with these bad boys (when in doubt, always choose "C".)

This is the most popular survey question type by a country mile. Why? Because they're easy to understand, simple to fill out and make survey analysis a breeze.

Multiple choice questions come in a couple of different formats. The standard type is a single-answer option where respondents select just one answer from a list, but you can also let folks choose a number of answers at once if that makes sense for your survey.

For example, if you're asking people whether they're satisfied with your service, a single answer works best. But if you were to ask "which of the following products do you use?" then you'd need to include the ability to select more than one option.

Tip: One of the downsides of multiple choice questions is that sometimes the answers you provide won't apply to certain respondents. This causes survey bias and affects the quality of your data—to avoid this, add an "other" option with a text box.

Dropdown questions

Good for: If you want respondents to select a specific response from a long list.

Dropdowns are a variant of multiple choice questions that make it easy to display a long list of answers without filling up the entire screen. Respondents can scroll through the list (that drops down when you click, hence the name) and choose from a selection of answers.

This type of question is commonly used when asking people to select their age or geographical location. Can you imagine listing every single country on your website and making people seek theirs out? It would be a design nightmare.

Much cleaner, right? As with normal multiple choice questions folks can choose more than one answer. Just be aware that this can create answer combinations that make it difficult to sort respondents based on their answers.

Scale questions

Good for: Gauging attitudes and feelings towards new products, customer service or an event.

Believe it or not, this has nothing to do with your weight. Rating scale questions allow people to easily express their feelings about a topic by asking them to make judgements on a point-scale between two bipolar adjectives.

They're the kind of questions you see in surveys that companies send out asking you to rate their customer service between 1-10, unsatisfied and satisfied or 😡  ➡  😊 .

There are two main kinds: Likert scales and semantic differential scales.

  • Likert scale questions ask you to agree or disagree with a statement
  • Semantic differential scales ask you to complete the statement yourself.

Both give respondents a range of options to select from and allow people to easily express their attitudes, thoughts and feelings. Probably the most famous scale is the Net Promoter Score (NPS) which companies are the globe use to rate customer satisfaction.

Tip: All Likert scales are "ordinal scales", which is a term that refers to the set of ordered responses people have to choose from. In ordinal questions the order of answer options is what matters, not the value attributed to them (unlike interval scales).

Demographic questions

Good for: Gathering actionable insights into your audience.

Opposed to most of the other question types on this list, this is more about the goal of the questions, rather than the format or way it's asked. Demographic survey questions are any questions relating to factors like age, gender, occupation and income.

Demographics are a marketers' best friend. They allow you to segment your audience based on socioeconomic factors and learn more about the characteristics of your customers. The data they give you is invaluable for making sure you've got a good product-market fit.

Demographic questions are usually best asked with multiple choice or dropdown options. This makes it easy for folks to find and select the answers that apply to them—and easy for you to then analyse that data.

Ranking questions

Good for: Ascertaining the popularity of certain items or concepts.

Who doesn't love ranking things? Whether it's Marvel movies or your favourite ice cream (mint), putting things in order of preference is an activity everyone enjoys. It also happens to be a fun and useful way for your business to understand the popularity of something.

When using ranking questions, it's best to make sure the response options are familiar to every person filling out your form. If not, then respondents won't be able to answer properly and your data won't be as effective.

Keep in mind that ranking things tends to be a time-consuming process. There's always lots of umming and ahing and switching answers—so try not to use them when there could be a more efficient way to get the same data.

Tip: Paperform doesn't have a dedicated 'Ranking' question type. The best way to recreate this experience is by setting individual scale questions like the example above.

Slider questions

Good for: A faster, more interactive alternative to rating scales.

Slider questions are a more interactive and aesthetically pleasing version of a rating scale. Plus it's a bit more fun to answer questions with a wiggle of a mouse or a finger.

They're a quick way for folks to evaluate something on a numerical scale. Set the parameters (e.g. between 1 and 100 or ❄️  and 🔥 ) and respondents can then drag the bar to a point that best reflects their opinion or feeling.

Tip: Slider questions are the way to go if you want to boost your response rate. They are quick and easy to fill out, helping reduce friction and leading to better engagement.

File upload questions

Good for: Securely collecting documents and files from respondents.

Uploading files probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of survey questions, but it's one of the most useful features of online form builders.

Need to collect a resume? Receive a Word Doc? Confirm the ID of a respondent? Just use a file upload question and folks can upload any file of their choosing from their computer or mobile. Once the responses are submitted, you can access and download the files.

Image Questions

Good for: Sprucing up your survey with engaging visuals.

Paperform's image questions are an extension of multiple choice questions, except instead of using text you set pictures as the answer options. It's a great way to add a bit of visual flair to your survey design.

For example, say you wanted to ask what your audience's favourite Star Wars movie was. Of course you could use a standard multiple choice question to achieve this, but with an image question you can spruce things up a bit:

Neat, right? Image questions can provide a much-needed break from long slabs of text and can give a more aesthetically-pleasing look to your forms.

Yes or No questions

Good for: Clear answers to questions about experiences, qualities or opinions.

Sometimes questions just need a simple yes or no answer. The fancy term for this is technically a "dichotomous question" and it refers to an answer that offers only two responses: 'Yes/No', 'True/False' or 'Agree/Disagree'.

These are best used for simple questions that don't require any further context. For example, a good yes/no question would be: "are you over 100kg?", while a poor one would be "do you like David Bowie?" because there's no room for the respondent to express their full perspective.

Dichotomous questions are a handy way to simplify online surveys and ask basic questions. They're useful in situations where you want to offer respondents a way to opt-out (e.g. a newsletter signup form or a privacy policy update.)

Tip: Don't try to use this question type when asking about thoughts, opinions or feelings. If you want to collect qualitative data it's better to use open-ended survey questions.

Matrix questions

Good for: Intuitively displaying multiple scale questions.

Unfortunately, despite how awesome it would be, this question type has nothing to do with The Matrix. Matrix questions are basically several scale questions arranged in a table-like grid.

You'll recognise this style from good ol' fashioned pen and paper surveys. For years survey builders relied on these because they're easy to write and program, and fairly intuitive for respondents to fill out.  

Using matrix questions helps simplify a bunch of questions and make things easy for respondents. Be careful not to include too many questions, and keep in mind they do not tend to display well on mobile devices.

Tip: When writing matrix questions keep response options and general wording short, and try to stick with five questions or less. Because they're so easy to set up, survey creators can use these as a crutch—don't fall into the same trap.

Best Practices For Survey Questions—A Short Guide

Your goal is to get as many survey responses as you can. More responses = more data = better insights that you can use to improve your business.

So how do you write questions that people will actually answer? Here's a short guide:

Keep it simple. A survey isn't the time to try out those new words you read in the thesaurus. Don't use jargon or complex terms. Think: would your grandma understand the questions?

Respect people's time. Your audience is doing you a favour by filling out your form. Don't expect them to fill out a 50 question survey—it's not fair. Short and sweet is the way to go.

Let it flow. There should be a certain logic to the way questions are asked. Don't jump between topics. Group together questions by theme/topic to make filling out the survey easier.

Keep questions to a single idea. Often people fall in to asking two questions in one—e.g. "How was the movie and did you like the popcorn?". This makes respondents feel overwhelmed. Keep questions separate for better answers.

Make surveys mobile friendly. Folks are on their phones much more than they're sitting in front of a computer. Make sure they can fill in your survey whether they're at a desk or on the toilet. (Paperforms naturally mobile friendly).

Don't use too many open-ended questions. Yes, open-ended questions are a fantastic way to get unique, actionable feedback, but people they take a lot of effort to fill out. Use them sparingly so people don't abandon ship.

Break down complex ideas. Split broad concepts up into smaller sub-topics to draw better responses. For example, instead of asking "Are you satisfied with our customer service" you could break it down into several different questions to give a more holistic view of your CS experience.

Avoid leading questions. A leading question is when you influence survey responses by inserting your own thoughts or opinions. The best way to avoid this is by having friends or colleagues review your questions.

Use conditional logic if possible. With conditional logic you can make specific questions appear/disappear based on the respondents' answers. This makes for a tailored, personalised experience that saves unnecessary time and effort.

Show a progress bar. We live in an age where attention spans last about as long as... what were we saying? Showing a progress bar keeps folks motivated and pushes them towards the finish.

The Golden Tip: Use Templates For Easy Surveys

Creating an engaging survey isn't an easy gig. It takes time to come up with the right questions and frame them in a way that makes people actually want to answer them.

Plus, once you've got the questions out of the way you've still got to worry about the design, which takes even longer to put together. We suggest speeding up the process and cutting your workload in half by using survey templates.

At Paperform we've got a library of over 500+ templates, designed by our in-house experts and covering just about any need, from customer satisfaction surveys and contact forms to employee evaluations.

Templates are like body builders; they look after the heavy lifting. 🏋️ Just pick one, add in a few questions, tweak the colours to fit your brand and away you go. Need a bit of inspiration? All of our templates are pre-populated with relevant questions to give you something to work with.

What're you waiting for? Get started today with our 14-day free trial—no credit card required.

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