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Research Aims, Objectives & Questions

The “Golden Thread” Explained Simply (+ Examples)

By: David Phair (PhD) and Alexandra Shaeffer (PhD) | June 2022

The research aims , objectives and research questions (collectively called the “golden thread”) are arguably the most important thing you need to get right when you’re crafting a research proposal , dissertation or thesis . We receive questions almost every day about this “holy trinity” of research and there’s certainly a lot of confusion out there, so we’ve crafted this post to help you navigate your way through the fog.

Overview: The Golden Thread

What is the “golden thread”?  

The golden thread simply refers to the collective research aims , research objectives , and research questions for any given project (i.e., a dissertation, thesis, or research paper). These three elements are bundled together because it’s extremely important that they align with each other, and that the entire research project aligns with them.

Importantly, the golden thread needs to weave its way through the entirety of any research project , from start to end. In other words, it needs to be very clearly defined right at the beginning of the project (the topic ideation and proposal stage) and it needs to inform almost every decision throughout the rest of the project. For example, your research design and methodology will be heavily influenced by the golden thread (we’ll explain this in more detail later), as well as your literature review.

The research aims, objectives and research questions (the golden thread) define the focus and scope ( the delimitations ) of your research project. In other words, they help ringfence your dissertation or thesis to a relatively narrow domain, so that you can “go deep” and really dig into a specific problem or opportunity. They also help keep you on track , as they act as a litmus test for relevance. In other words, if you’re ever unsure whether to include something in your document, simply ask yourself the question, “does this contribute toward my research aims, objectives or questions?”. If it doesn’t, chances are you can drop it.

Alright, enough of the fluffy, conceptual stuff. Let’s get down to business and look at what exactly the research aims, objectives and questions are and outline a few examples to bring these concepts to life.

Webinar - How to find a research topic

Research Aims: What are they?

Simply put, the research aim(s) is a statement that reflects the broad overarching goal (s) of the research project. Research aims are fairly high-level (low resolution) as they outline the general direction of the research and what it’s trying to achieve .

Research Aims: Examples  

True to the name, research aims usually start with the wording “this research aims to…”, “this research seeks to…”, and so on. For example:

As you can see, these research aims provide a high-level description of what the study is about and what it seeks to achieve. They’re not hyper-specific or action-oriented, but they’re clear about what the study’s focus is and what is being investigated.

Need a helping hand?

research objectives questions and answers

Research Objectives: What are they?

The research objectives take the research aims and make them more practical and actionable . In other words, the research objectives showcase the steps that the researcher will take to achieve the research aims.

The research objectives need to be far more specific (higher resolution) and actionable than the research aims. In fact, it’s always a good idea to craft your research objectives using the “SMART” criteria. In other words, they should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound”.

Research Objectives: Examples  

Let’s look at two examples of research objectives. We’ll stick with the topic and research aims we mentioned previously.  

For the digital transformation topic:  

And for the student wellness topic:  

  As you can see, these research objectives clearly align with the previously mentioned research aims and effectively translate the low-resolution aims into (comparatively) higher-resolution objectives and action points . They give the research project a clear focus and present something that resembles a research-based “to-do” list.

The research objectives detail the specific steps that you, as the researcher, will take to achieve the research aims you laid out.

Research Questions: What are they?

Finally, we arrive at the all-important research questions. The research questions are, as the name suggests, the key questions that your study will seek to answer . Simply put, they are the core purpose of your dissertation, thesis, or research project. You’ll present them at the beginning of your document (either in the introduction chapter or literature review chapter) and you’ll answer them at the end of your document (typically in the discussion and conclusion chapters).  

The research questions will be the driving force throughout the research process. For example, in the literature review chapter, you’ll assess the relevance of any given resource based on whether it helps you move towards answering your research questions. Similarly, your methodology and research design will be heavily influenced by the nature of your research questions. For instance, research questions that are exploratory in nature will usually make use of a qualitative approach, whereas questions that relate to measurement or relationship testing will make use of a quantitative approach.  

Let’s look at some examples of research questions to make this more tangible.

Research Questions: Examples  

Again, we’ll stick with the research aims and research objectives we mentioned previously.  

For the digital transformation topic (which would be qualitative in nature):  

And for the student wellness topic (which would be quantitative in nature):  

You’ll probably notice that there’s quite a formulaic approach to this. In other words, the research questions are basically the research objectives “converted” into question format. While that is true most of the time, it’s not always the case. For example, the first research objective for the digital transformation topic was more or less a step on the path toward the other objectives, and as such, it didn’t warrant its own research question.  

So, don’t rush your research questions and sloppily reword your objectives as questions. Carefully think about what exactly you’re trying to achieve (i.e. your research aim) and the objectives you’ve set out, then craft a set of well-aligned research questions . Also, keep in mind that this can be a somewhat iterative process , where you go back and tweak research objectives and aims to ensure tight alignment throughout the golden thread.

 Your research questions will be the driving force throughout the research process, especially in the literature review and methodology chapters.

The importance of strong alignment 

Alignment is the keyword here and we have to stress its importance . Simply put, you need to make sure that there is a very tight alignment between all three pieces of the golden thread. If your research aims and research questions don’t align, for example, your project will be pulling in different directions and will lack focus . This is a common problem students face and can cause many headaches (and tears), so be warned.

Take the time to carefully craft your research aims, objectives and research questions before you run off down the research path. Ideally, get your research supervisor/advisor to review and comment on your golden thread before you invest significant time into your project, and certainly before you start collecting data .  

Recap: The golden thread

In this post, we unpacked the golden thread of research, consisting of the research aims , research objectives and research questions . You can jump back to any section using the links below.

As always, feel free to leave a comment below – we always love to hear from you. Also, if you’re interested in 1-on-1 support, take a look at our private coaching service here.

research objectives questions and answers

Psst… there’s more (for free)

This post is part of our research writing mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project.

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Saunders' Research Onion - Explained Simply (With Examples)


Isaac Levi

Thank you very much for your great effort put. As an Undergraduate taking Demographic Research & Methodology, I’ve been trying so hard to understand clearly what is a Research Question, Research Aim and the Objectives in a research and the relationship between them etc. But as for now I’m thankful that you’ve solved my problem.

Hatimu Bah

Well appreciated. This has helped me greatly in doing my dissertation.

Dr. Abdallah Kheri

An so delighted with this wonderful information thank you a lot.

so impressive i have benefited a lot looking forward to learn more on research.

Ekwunife, Chukwunonso Onyeka Steve

I am very happy to have carefully gone through this well researched article.

Infact,I used to be phobia about anything research, because of my poor understanding of the concepts.

Now,I get to know that my research question is the same as my research objective(s) rephrased in question format.

I please I would need a follow up on the subject,as I intends to join the team of researchers. Thanks once again.


Thanks so much. This was really helpful.


i found this document so useful towards my study in research methods. thanks so much.

Michael L. Andrion

This is my 2nd read topic in your course and I should commend the simplified explanations of each part. I’m beginning to understand and absorb the use of each part of a dissertation/thesis. I’ll keep on reading your free course and might be able to avail the training course! Kudos!


Thank you! Better put that my lecture and helped to easily understand the basics which I feel often get brushed over when beginning dissertation work.

Enoch Tindiwegi

This is quite helpful. I like how the Golden thread has been explained and the needed alignment.

Sora Dido Boru

This is quite helpful. I really appreciate!


The article made it simple for researcher students to differentiate between three concepts.

Afowosire Wasiu Adekunle

Very innovative and educational in approach to conducting research.

Mohammed Shamsudeen

A very helpful piece. thanks, I really appreciate it .

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Doing Research in the Real World

Student resources, multiple choice quiz.

Take the quiz to test your understanding of the key concepts covered in the chapter. Try testing yourself before you read the chapter to see where your strengths and weaknesses are, then test yourself again once you’ve read the chapter to see how well you’ve understood.

Tip: Click on each link to expand and view the content. Click again to collapse.


1. Which of the following should not be a criterion for a good research project?

b.  Is dependent on the completion of other projects

2. Which form of reasoning is the process of drawing a specific conclusion from a set of premises?

d:  Deductive reasoning

3. Research that seeks to examine the findings of a study by using the same design but a different sample is which of the following?

b:  A replication study

4. A researcher designs an experiment to test how variables interact to influence job-seeking behaviours. The main purpose of the study was:

d:  Explanation

5. Cyber bullying at work is a growing threat to employee job satisfaction. Researchers want to find out why people do this and how they feel about it. The primary purpose of the study is:

c:  Exploration

6. A theory: 

a:  Is an accumulated body of knowledge

7. Which research method is a bottom-up approach to research?

c:  Inductive method

8. How much confidence should you place in a single research study?

a:  You should trust research findings after different researchers have replicated the findings

9. A qualitative research problem statement:

d:  Conveys a sense of emerging design

10. Which of the following is a good research question?

d:  Do students with high levels of self-efficacy demonstrate more active job searching behaviours?

11. A review of the literature prior to formulating research questions allows the researcher to :

d:  All of the above

12. Sometimes a comprehensive review of the literature prior to data collection is not recommended by:

b:  Grounded theory

13. The feasibility of a research study should be considered in light of: 

14. Research that uses qualitative methods for one phase and quantitative methods for the next phase is known as:

b:  Mixed-method research

15. Research hypotheses are:

c:  B but not A

16. Which research approach is based on the epistemological viewpoint of pragmatism? 

c:  Mixed-methods research

17. Adopting ethical principles in research means: 

a:  Avoiding harm to participants

18. A radical perspective on ethics suggests that: 

d:  Ethics should be based on self-reflexivity

19. Ethical problems can arise when researching the Internet because:

b:  Respondents may fake their identities

20. The Kappa statistic: 

b:  Compares the level of agreement between two judges against what might have been predicted by chance


1. Which research paradigm is most concerned about generalizing its findings? 

a:  Quantitative research

2. A variable that is presumed to cause a change in another variable is called:

c:  An independent variable

3. A study of teaching professionals posits that their performance-related pay increases their motivation which in turn leads to an increase in their job satisfaction. What kind of variable is ‘motivation”’ in this study? 

c:  Intervening

4. Which correlation is the strongest? 

5. When interpreting a correlation coefficient expressing the relationship between two variables, it is important not to:

a:  Assume causality

6. Which of the following can be described as a nominal variable? 

d:  Geographical location of a firm

7. A positive correlation occurs when:

b:  Two variables move in the same direction

8. The key defining characteristic of experimental research is that:

a:  The independent variable is manipulated

9. Qualitative research is used in all the following circumstances, EXCEPT:

d:  It is typically used when a great deal is already known about the topic of interest

10. In an experiment, the group that does not receive the intervention is called:

c:  The control group

11. Which generally cannot be guaranteed in conducting qualitative studies in the field? 

c:  Assuring anonymity rather than just confidentiality

12. Which of the following is not ethical practice in research with humans? 

d:  Requiring participants to continue until the study has been completed

13. What do we call data that are used for a new study but which were collected by an earlier researcher for a different set of research questions?

a:  Secondary data

14. When each member of a population has an equal chance of being selected, this is called:

c:  A random probability sample

15. Which of the following techniques yields a simple random sample of hospitals?

b:  Numbering all the elements of a hospital sampling frame and then using a random number generator to pick hospitals from the table

16. Which of the following statements are true?

b:  The smaller the sample size, the greater the sampling error

17. Which of the following will produce the least sampling error?

d:  A large sample based on random sampling

18. When people are readily available, volunteer, or are easily recruited to the sample, this is called:

b:  Convenience sampling

19. In qualitative research, sampling that involves selecting diverse cases is referred to as:

d:  Maximum variation sampling

20. A test accurately indicates an employee’s scores on a future criterion (e.g., conscientiousness).  What kind of validity is this?

a:  Predictive


1. When designing a questionnaire it is important to do each of the following EXCEPT

d:  Use leading questions

2. One advantage of using a questionnaire is that:

c:  Interview bias can be avoided

3. Which of the following is true of observations?

b:  It is often not possible to determine exactly why people behave as they do

4. A researcher secretly becomes an active member of a group in order to observe their behaviour. This researcher is acting as:

c:  A covert participant observer

5. All of the following are advantages of structured observation, EXCEPT:

b:  The coding schedule might impose a framework on what is being observed

6. When conducting an interview, asking questions such as: "What else? or ‘Could you expand on that?’ are all forms of:

7. Secondary data can include which of the following? 

8. An ordinal scale is:

c:  A rank-order scale of measurement

9. Which term measures the extent to which scores from a test can be used to infer or predict performance in some activity? 

c:  Criterion-related validity

10. The ‘reliability’of a measure refers to the researcher asking:

a:  Does it give consistent results?

11. Interviewing is the favoured approach EXCEPT when:

c:  High numbers of respondents are needed

12. Validity in interviews is strengthened by the following EXCEPT:

b:  Multiple questions cover the same theme

13. Interview questions should:

c:  Be delivered in a neutral tone

14. Active listening skills means:

d:  Attentive listening

15. All the following are strengths of focus groups EXCEPT:

d:  They help maintain confidentiality

16. Which of the following is not always true about focus groups?

c:  Participants should come from diverse backgrounds

17. A disadvantage of using secondary data is that:

a:  The data may have been collected with reference to research questions that are not those of the researcher

18. All of the following are sources of secondary data EXCEPT:

c:  The researcher’s research diary

19. Which of the following is not true about visual methods?

b:  The have low resource requirements

20. Avoiding naïve empiricism in the interpretation of visual data means:

a:  Understanding the context in which they were produced


1. Which of the following is incorrect when naming a variable in SPSS?

b:  Must end in a full stop

2. Which of the following is not an SPSS Type variable?

3. A graph that uses vertical bars to represent data is called:

a:  A bar chart

4. The purpose of descriptive statistics is to:

a:  Summarize the characteristics of a data set

5. The measure of the extent to which responses vary from the mean is called:

c:  The standard deviation

6. To compare the performance of a group at time T1 and then at T2, we would use:

d:  A paired t-test

7. A Type 1 error occurs in a situation where:

c:  The null hypothesis is rejected when it is in fact true

8. The significance level

d:  Measures the probability of rejecting a true null hypothesis

9. To predict the value of the dependent variable for a new case based on the knowledge of one or more independent variables, we would use

a:  Regression analysis

10. In conducting secondary data analysis, researchers should ask themselves all of the following EXCEPT:

c:  How can respondents be re-interviewed?

11. Which of the following are not true of reflexivity?

c:  It is part of a post-positivist tradition

12. Validity in qualitative research can be strengthened by all of the following EXCEPT:

b:  Transcribing interviews to improve accuracy of data

13. Qualitative data analysis programs are useful for each of the following EXCEPT: 

d:  Generating codes

14. Which part of a research report contains details of how the research was planned and conducted?

b:  Design 

15. Which of the following is a form of research typically conducted by managers and other professionals to address issues in their organizations and/or professional practice?

a:  Action research

16. Plagiarism can be avoided by:

b:  Paraphrasing the author’s text in your own words

17. In preparing for a presentation, you should do all of the following EXCEPT:

b:  Ignore your nerves

18. You can create interest in your presentation by:

d:  Using metaphors

19. In preparing for a viva or similar oral examination, it is best if you have:

c:  Published and referenced your own article(s)

20. Grounded theory coding:

d:  Stops when theoretical saturation has been reached

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Research questions and research objectives

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Research questions are the starting point in any good research . They provide the road map to proceed and identify and focus on the research gaps . The research objectives are actions intended to answer the research questions .


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Research Methodology MCQ Quiz - Multiple Choice Questions & Answers

MCQ quiz on Research Methodology multiple choice questions and answers on Research Methodology MCQ questions quiz on Research Methodology objectives questions with answer test pdf. Professionals, Teachers, Students and Kids Trivia Quizzes to test your knowledge on the subject.

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Research Methodology Quiz Question with Answer

1. A Research Report is a formal statement of

2. Schedule is filled by

3. Questionnaire is filled by

4. Different people hold .................. of the same thing

5. Facts, figures and other relevant materials serving as bases for a study is called

6. An instrument used in method is called

7. ........................ is a source of problem

8. .................... is a quality of Good Researcher

9. Social Science Research in India aims at a ................. state

10. Good Research is always

Multiple Choice Questions and Answers on Research Methodology

Research methodology multiple choice questions and answers, research methodology trivia quiz, research methodology question and answer pdf online.

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Types of Survey Questions: Examples and Writing Tips

There are two true types of survey questions; objective questions and subjective questions.

Objective questions

Objective questions are those based in fact, where a respondent’s answer can be determined as right, wrong, true or false. An example of an objective question would be to ask where someone lives or what they bought from your store.

Subjective questions

Subjective questions aim to measure a respondent’s feelings, attitudes and perceptions of something. For example, how they felt about the quality of customer service or what their favourite brand of coffee is.

The style of question you choose to employ in your online survey will largely depend on what your overall goals are. If you’re running a health survey, most of your questions will concern a respondent’s exercise and dietary routes, and be mostly objective.

If you were running a post-event survey, a large majority of your questions would concern your attendee’s personal experience, and therefore be subjective. It’s likely you’ll use both forms of questions in your survey for a complete account of your respondent’s experience.

Whichever form you stick to in your survey will also impact the question types you employ.

Types of survey questions

When it comes to surveys, there are 8 main question types:

Open ended questions

Close ended questions, rating questions, ranking questions.

Multiple choice questions

Picture choice questions, demographic questions.

What type of question you choose, and how you ask that question, can determine the quality of data you collect from respondents.

If you’d like to learn more about each of these types, their strengths and the best tips we have for writing the perfect survey question, read on.

Open ended questions  are used to collect  qualitative data , which is more in-depth and meaningful. Respondents are given to space to provide detail and often work well in tandem with  close ended questions , where they can explain previous answer choices.

However, because the responses are more long-form, the data can be time consuming to analyze.

Open ended question examples

These types of questions only require a one-word answer, like yes or no. They’re useful for collecting  quantitative sets of data , where you’re looking for some statistical significance in the results.

They can also be used to learn about your respondents or to test their knowledge on a subject.

Closed ended question examples

Rating scale questions are a great tool for measuring attitudes and opinions of your respondents. You could ask them to what extent do they agree with a statement or to assign a star rating to a movie or restaurant.

This question type can also be used to determine your Net Promoter Score (customer loyalty).

Rating question examples

Ask respondents to rank a set of options from first to last based on a factor you’ve set. For instance, you could require that soda brands be ranked based on their taste.

Each answer position will assign an answer option a weight and the average weight of each result will be indicated in your results.

Ranking question example

Rank the following aspects of the store in order of importance from 1 to 5 where 1 is most important to you and 5 is least important to you:

Likert scale (matrix questions)

Like rating questions, Likert scales are useful for measuring how people feel about something. These are more commonly used to rate people’s experiences, such as how satisfied they were with customer service.

However, they more commonly employ a 5, 7 or 9 point scale, where rating questions usually measure on a scale of 5 or 10.

Likert scale example

Here’s where you’ll provide a set list of answer choices for respondents to pick from. They work best when you have an exhaustive list of answers, such as you would for a quiz.

You can set these question types to accept a single answer or set a limit for multiple answers to be chosen.

Multiple choice question examples

To keep respondents engaged, all surveys should strive to be as visually appealing to as possible. Picture choice question types make your survey that little bit more interactive and allow a little reprieve from reading bulks of text.

It also makes testing product and logo concepts easier in market research surveys.

Picture choice question example

Pircture Choice Question Type Example

These types of survey questions regard personal or sensitive information about the respondent, e.g. age, income, religious beliefs.

They are the most difficult question types to master and respondents can react to them in so many ways depending on how you ask and where in the survey you ask them (or whether they feel it’s necessary for you to ask them at all).

Demographic questions can be both open and close ended. If you’re using open ended text fields you run the risk of input errors, which may slow down the analysis of your results.

If you use close ended questions, then you run the risk of your answers selection not being exhaustive.

Demographic question examples

Mistakes made when writing survey questions

1. writing leading questions, 2. failing to provide mutually exclusive or exhaustive answer choices, 3. asking indirect questions.

4. Writing double barrelled questions

5. Including unnecessary questions

6. Asking “what if…” questions

7. Asking questions people can’t answer

8. Being unaware of sensitive or taboo topics

9. Asking ambiguous questions

Leading questions are those written, intentionally or not, with emotional or persuasive language that influence a respondent’s answer choice.

To reduce the occurrence of bias in your data, you should ensure your question language and phrasing is as neutral as possible.

Bad Question: Do you have any concerns about the training program so far.

The wording in this question example only asks the respondent to think about the concerns, or negative aspects, of the course son far.

Instead, you should ask them to about their overall experience.

Good survey question: How would you describe your experience on the course so far?

When writing  survey answers  for multiple choice question types, you must ensure they don’t create an ambiguity for respondents.

The two most common occurrences of this are when answer options aren’t exhaustive or mutually exclusive.

Answer options that aren’t mutually exclusive:

A: 18-25 | B: 25-35 | C: 35-45 | D: 45-55 | E: 55-65

In the above example, respondents wouldn’t know which age range to select if they were 25, 35, 45 or 55.

Each answer choice should be clearly discernible from all other options.

Answer options that aren’t exhaustive:

An answer set that isn’t exhaustive doesn’t provide respondents with all the answers they’d expect for a question. Although three of the main modes of transport are included in the example, the question has not considered respondents who walk to work (or take use any other mode of transport).

Additionally, respondents may want to differentiate between driving themselves to work and carpooling with a colleague. To identify any answers you might be missing, carry out a test run of your survey with some colleagues or friends.

Provide an ‘Other’ answer option for each question and inspect your results for the most frequently occurring custom answers. Then you’ll have a good idea of the answer options respondents will expect for your question.

Asking a question that’s too vague will lead to frustration in respondents. They want to answer each question proficiently and in as little time as possible.

Questions that aren’t specific enough, or ask respondents to consider too much, will lead to disengagement and even drop outs.

Either way, your results are likely to be affected.

Indirect question example:

Questions like this are bound to cause issues for respondents simply because they ask too much. For instance, what is meant by spare time? Is it time away from work or time spent alone?

Furthermore, what is the time frame? No one does the same thing with their spare time consistently, so where’s the limit to what a respondent can and can’t include.

4. Double barrelled questions

Asking more than one question at a time is likely to confuse respondents and will make your survey seem rushed and unrefined. On top of this, any results you collect for that question will be all but useless, as you won’t know which question a respondent was answering.

Divide double barrelled questions into two or remove the less important question from the survey altogether.

Double barrelled question example:

This question is assuming that all co-workers who’re friendly are also hardworking, and vice versa. Whereas a respondent may believe their co-workers only posses one of those traits.

In this same vein, you should also avoid writing double barrelled answer options.

Double barrelled answer option example:

5. Unnecessary questions

You may try to get as much information out of your respondent as possible while you have their attention. But this tactic if often not worth the risk, as it’s something respondents are often aware of and they don’t tend react well.

Think about it, they’ve have chosen to invest their time and effort into your survey because they’re invested in the research of there’s some incentive on offer.

They’re happy to give the information they expect to, but then discover you’re asking questions unrelated to the research (for example, what their email address is).

Only include questions that contribute to meeting your research goals. You’re much more likely to have a higher response rate and won’t deter respondents from filling out any of your future surveys.

6. "What if..." questions

It’s best to avoid types of questions that propose a “what if” scenario, because people aren’t very good at predicting how they’d react to hypothetical situations.

The data you collect isn’t likely to be accurate and shouldn’t be used for any decision-making purposes.

Only ask questions that concerns a respondent’s actual experiences and always offer an opt-out answer option (such as N/A or “Other”) for those your question may not concern.

This would be a good opportunity to use page logic to direct respondents to pages that only concern them.

7. Asking questions people can't answer

Relying on a participant’s long-term memory is a sure-fire way to produce inaccurate results.

For example, if you’re running a customer satisfaction survey you may want to ask how a respondent’s last experience in your store was. If their last visit happened to be 8 months ago, you’re not going to get an answer that’s truly representative of that experience.

Only ask about events that have occurred recently or do so frequently.

8. Sensitive or taboo subjects

There’s a tendency in respondents to answer sensitive questions in a way that would be perceived as more socially acceptable, this is known as social desirability bias.

It often leads to over-reporting good behaviours (e.g. how often they exercise) and under-reporting bad behaviours (e.g. how many units of alcohol are consumed a week).

To combat this form of  response bias , you could provide a short prelude to each question or page and make it clear that survey responses are anonymous (if that’s the case).

Either of these methods can decrease the occurrence of social desirability bias and improve the quality of your results.

Respondents shouldn’t have to think too hard about their answers. If you haven’t made the meaning of a question clear, then people are likely to guess at an answer or drop out of your survey.

To avoid creating ambiguity, you could provide extra information to define a term or the context of a question to assist them with their answer choice.

Ambiguous question examples:

These examples are both too vague for a respondent to answer accurately. The first question does not define what kind of shopping is being asked about, e.g. food shopping or clothes shopping.

It also fails to provide a time frame, which is essential for a question like this as a respondent’s preference in shopping destinations will change over time.

The second example does provide a time frame but isn’t specific enough. Does “past month” mean the last 30 days or the current calendar month?

Too avoid ambiguity, always provide as many specifics in the question for a respondent to make informed choice.

Tips for how to write survey questions

1. define your objective and stick to it.

The purpose of your survey shouldn’t be to gather as much data on respondents as possible, but rather to use collect relevant data to achieve an objective.

This could be to inform academic research or improve your products or services, but the questions you ask should only aid in meeting that objective.

Respondents will know if you’re just digging for data and are likely to disengage or drop out when they do realise.

To ensure you stick to your objective, provide a statement at start of your survey defining your objective and how the data collected is essential to meeting it.

By doing this, also reduce the rate of answer dishonesty in your survey, as respondents will feel invested in your research because they’ll feel they’re providing something valuable to it.

2. Write clear and concise questions

When a question is too long, it’s often asking too much from a respondent. Keeping them as short as possible, whilst providing all the context they need to answer, is the key to collecting good quality survey data and keeping respondents engaged.

Information that’s essential for providing context questions are factors such as times, dates, locations, events and people. The more specific a question is, the easier it is for a respondent to an accurate answer.

3. Check for spelling and grammatical errors

If you want your participants to take your research seriously, make sure your survey content is written well.

A poorly written surveys will be jarring for respondents and is likely to cause disengagement, which leads to drops outs or answer dishonesty. Both of which are bad news for your results.

4. Use language that's universally understood

It’s important to reduce the occurrence of complex terms or jargon in your surveys, especially if it’s being shared to a wide audience.

For example, when running a market research survey, you should avoid using industry acronyms or jargon as your customers are unlikely to understand it. Similarly, if you’re running an academic research survey, your participants won’t understand subject specific terms.

If the terminology is essential to your questions or objective, then you should provide a definition at the start of your survey or above the question the term is used in.

5. Start with easy questions

To get your respondents to engage with your survey, place your simplest or most interesting questions at the beginning.

This will ease participants into your line of questioning and once they start, they’re more likely to see it through to the end. But if you place a tough question first, they may take one look at it and drop out.

6. Don't start with sensitive or demographic questions

Starting your survey with demographic questions, or others of a sensitive nature, will put a lot of respondents off. People are protective of data directly concerning them and are resistant to handing this information over to someone they don’t trust.

However, trust will naturally be built with a respondent as they pass through your survey and are less likely to drop out when they’ve put so much time and effort into responding.

It would be wise to save these types of questions for the end of your survey to increase completion rates.

7. Balance your scaled questions and provide a neutral answer options

For the best results, scaled question types should always stick to a certain formula. Firstly, your scale should be balanced.

If you have two positive answer options (e.g. Good and Very Good) then you should also have two negative options (i.e. Poor and Very Poor).

Bad example: 

Very Poor | Good | Very Good | Excellent

In our example, there are more positive scale choices than there are negative. You can never be sure if a respondent who picked ‘Very Poor’ felt that strongly about the negative aspect of something, as there is no lesser option (i.e. Poor).

Also, respondents may tend to pick the negative option because the presence of more positive options makes it seem like they’re being led to one of those.

On top of this, each scale option should be the direct contrast to the one opposing it (e.g. ‘Very Poor – Very Good’ not ‘Very Poor – Excellent’).

Finally, always include a middle (neutral) option for Likert scales. These give respondents the ability to opt out of a question or statement if they don’t feel either positively or negatively about it. This ensures your results are as accurate as possible.

Good Likert scale example:

Very Poor | Poor | No Opinion | Good | Very Good

8. Ask "How?" instead of "Did?" in open ended questions

When asking about a respondent’s experience or opinion, how your question is framed will determine the quality of answer provided. For example, if you ask “Did you enjoy the event?”, then people are likely to respond with either “Yes” or “No”.

However, if you asked “How did you find the event?”, your respondents will provide more specific feedback, e.g. “Very informative” or “The presentations were a little long”.

Not enough info for you? Take a look at our article on how to create a survey that collects better quality data.

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