Recent studies have shown that our brains are wired to avoid difficult decisions and demanding tasks; To put it bluntly, we are inherently lazy.

Despite the negative reputation laziness has had since biblical times, it actually makes perfect sense. In order to survive in a world of limited resources, people must conserve energy.

When we are presented with a mental exercise that can be easily completed (such as finding a familiar name from a list) the brain interprets this as a sign that all is well and we experience cognitive ease – a state associated with good feelings such as trust, confidence and a generally positive mood.

Successful designers, product managers, and marketers internalize our inclination towards conserving mental energy by building easy-to-understand, familiar-looking interfaces, products and ads.

Why is this relevant to your survey?

Surveys can be surprisingly tough to answer. When you create a survey, respondents need to actively pay attention, consider different options and make the best decision based on these options.

Even questions about daily habits, opinions, beliefs or feelings require some deliberation before answers come to mind. If your respondent is putting in a lot of effort, he or she might experience cognitive strain, a state in which people feel more suspicious, less intuitive and less comfortable.

Needless to say, the path from here to survey fatigue is very short. Fatigued respondents tend to perform poorly and even drop out, greatly affecting the quality of your data. You can avoid this by creating a survey that is super easy to comprehend and answer.

How can you get there?

Use friendly language

Whether you’re creating a poll about your co-workers favorite cat-video or a survey about financial instruments for traders at a hedge fund, questions should always be phrased in the simplest way possible.

This isn’t to say you should not use any professional jargon, as long as the target audience is familiar with the terms and can instantaneously grasp the intent of the question – you’re in the safe zone.

Since it can be tough to judge the clarity of your wording (after all, it’s clear to you!), getting feedback is very important. Ideally, you should ask someone in your target audience to share their opinion about their experience taking your survey.

Be mindful of questions & answers

The nature of the questions and answers you create will determine how easy it is to complete the survey. We have identified 3 particularly influential aspects for you to focus on:

Question types – With all due respect to all question types, some should be used less frequently than others. Open-ended questions are always more difficult to answer than other question types, so use them sparsely and wisely, when no other question type can do the job. Examples of such cases include unaided brand recall questions, questions with too many plausible answer choices and follow-up questions on rating questions. When you do use open-ended questions, allow respondents to skip it if they wish to do so.

The number of answer choices – When it comes to choice, more is not always better. If you show respondents too many choices, it can paralyze them when it comes to making a decision. Generally speaking, you should pick the main 6 or 7 answer choices and kill the rest. For some questions, it is impossible to cover all plausible answers, and that is fine. Let respondents express their unique answers by adding an ‘Other’ answer choice and letting them specify in a comment.

Survey structure – A hassle-free survey feels short. It doesn’t necessarily mean it is short. When a survey flows like a conversation, it feels natural and effortless. A crucial aspect of dialogue and surveys alike is the order in which questions are presented. Just as you wouldn’t start a conversation with someone you’ve only met with a bunch of deep and personal questions, you also shouldn’t bombard respondents right away with thought-provoking questions. Respondents should move gradually from easy questions (such as basic demographic questions and image choice questions) to more difficult questions (such as matrix questions and open-ended questions). You can even make your survey more conversational by asking the right follow up questions.

How can you create a survey flow that feels more like a conversion to your respondents? go to the next post to find out.