Best Practices for Writing Inclusive Demographic Survey Questions

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When looking for feedback regarding your customer or client base, surveys can be a valuable tool for internal and external improvement. In addition, they provide helpful information that can be used to grow your organization. However, without inclusivity-minded surveys, the information you receive could exclude your customer base’s essential demographic. Therefore, when writing survey questions, it’s crucial to prioritize asking moral questions sensitive to the respondent’s gender, race, marital status, education, and more. 

There are many benefits to inclusion consciousness, such as open-ended feedback, impactful and accurate data – all of which can help retain your customer base and improve customer experience. Below, we’ve listed some useful tips for writing inclusive surveys.

  • Be Straightforward in your Inquiry.

Instead of assuming certain traits about the respondent, it’s more sensitive to your customer to ask them directly. For example, if you’re inquiring whether your respondent is available on Sundays, avoid asking if they are religious or attending worship services. Instead, ask them directly what their schedule is like.

  • Prioritize Free-form or Open-ended Responses

Multiple choice questions help us get the answer we’re looking for, but adding a fill-in-the-blank option is an easy way to make your survey more inclusive. This also prevents incorrect data when your respondents are forced to select an alternative that doesn’t reflect an accurate response. Allowing for open-ended survey responses makes your data more accurate and valuable.

  • Value Transparency With Your Data

Before any research study, academic studies require that respondents know what the research is being used for and the risks involved. This is just as important when we ask respondents for data because they have the right to know how their data is being used. By letting them know what their data or responses are being used for, you can earn respect from your customers and engage with your survey. Therefore, at the beginning of your survey, it’s crucial to state what you are seeking to discover, what the data will be used for, who will have access to said data, and finally, if the respondents’ answers will remain anonymous or kept on record. This, in turn, will ensure that your respondents feel confident in providing valuable information but also decline to take the survey if they don’t believe it’s in their best interest to participate.

  • Allow Respondents to Skip Questions

As often occurs in any academic research, respondents can skip questions they are not comfortable answering. Providing your respondents with an option to skip survey questions clarifies that they shouldn’t feel obligated to answer a question for which they don’t feel comfortable sharing that information. In addition, allowing respondents to skip questions will improve the survey completion rate and make sure the respondents are less likely to exit the survey before finishing it.

  • Less is More With Multiple Choice

It saves everyone’s time, including yours, to avoid giving too many multiple-choice options. Giving respondents too many options can be offensive since it can imply that they don’t belong in the broader categories when that may be how they identify. It can also come across as less authentic and as if you’re trying too hard to use the correct terms without caring about the results. This is also another good place to include a free-form response section to let the respondents self-identify.

  • Use Current Terminology

Inclusive terminology changes as time goes by; ensuring that the verbiage used in your survey is accurate and timely is also of great importance. Avoid potentially offensive mistakes by researching the difference between race and ethnicity, or terms like womxn, they/them pronouns, or Latinx – including how to use them appropriately.

  • Avoid Bias by Randomizing List Orders

Unconscious bias by those writing the survey questions can be avoided by using a randomized option for multiple-choice answers. This way, you can prevent respondents from feeling put off by order of the opportunities presented. One example of this is race: if the race options are in order of the largest portion of the demographic to the smallest, the respondents who select the smaller options may feel that the bigger populations are the norm and deviating from that. Randomizing the order of the options will help prevent this from occurring.

  • Accommodate Everyone with Accessibility

Ableism is also something to consider when creating an inclusive survey: making your survey accessible to individuals with low vision or those who use screen readers will help exclude valuable data from respondents. In addition, adding alt text to all images and making colors and fonts highly contrasted and therefore easy to read will help be more inclusive to individuals of all abilities.

  • Don’t Make Assumptions About Your Audience. 

Reading your survey questions back carefully can help you ensure that you’re not making assumptions about the respondent that can be perceived as offensive and consequently skew your data. For example, consider if someone could quickly answer each question, no matter their gender identity, education level, or income. By doing this, you can ensure that you have the correct demographic information in mind. 

  • Create Surveys with Skip Logic

Many survey tools and customer experience technology allow surveys to use logic-based rules to collect and sort data. Employing skip logic where needed can ensure you aren’t asking respondents irrelevant or insensitive questions. SurveyMonkey exemplifies the best practice of skip logic by designing a survey. If a respondent answers that they are Hindu, the next question won’t ask them about their favorite Christmas traditions regarding their previous answer. Instead, the survey can ask about Diwali traditions as this pertains to their religion.

Data collection through surveys is an instrumental tool, but only when done correctly and inclusively. We hope that this can result in accurate and representative data from surveys to improve your organization’s customer experience with these ten tips in mind. 


Best Practices for Writing Inclusive Demographic Survey Questions

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