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Preparing an effective survey

From: Up and Running with Online Surveys

Video: Preparing an effective survey

Before we dive right into creating a survey using an online survey tool like SurveyMonkey, it's important to have a plan of attack. In this movie, we'll explore some important steps you can take to ensure you get the best results from your survey. As we move from traditional survey methods to online methods, one truth remains the same, you get out of it what you put into it. Your survey can fail if it includes ill-defined objectives, poorly-worded questions, and you could get low response rates. Let's look at some techniques that can help you to overcome some of these pitfalls.

Preparing an effective survey

Before we dive right into creating a survey using an online survey tool like SurveyMonkey, it's important to have a plan of attack. In this movie, we'll explore some important steps you can take to ensure you get the best results from your survey. As we move from traditional survey methods to online methods, one truth remains the same, you get out of it what you put into it. Your survey can fail if it includes ill-defined objectives, poorly-worded questions, and you could get low response rates. Let's look at some techniques that can help you to overcome some of these pitfalls.

Number one, you have to clearly define your objectives. It is probably the most important thing before you even touch an online survey tool to clearly define your objectives. You should be asking, why are we conducting this survey? Everything will flow from the answer to this question, including the method and the questions you ask. You should also be asking, what are our key information needs, and how will we use this information or what actions will we take based on the information that we gather? Your survey can be measured against these objectives. Is the question necessary, does it satisfy one of the objectives of the study? As you develop each question, ask yourself how will you use the responses to this question? This process will help you separate the need to know from the nice to know.

Also, keeping your objectives focused and specific will result in a questionnaire that is focused and specific. In the end, this will improve your response rate. Here's an example of our reasonable survey objective. The purpose of this survey is to understand the service needs of our customers and the extent to which we are satisfying those needs. An objective like this will keep you on track and ultimately reduce the length of the final questionnaire. The way you organize your questions is a key tool you can use to engage respondents and ultimately improve your response rate.

Experts recommend that your questionnaire should have a logical and coherent flow. If you think of your survey as a type of conversation, you will typically move from one topic to another in a logical fashion. As you may have experienced, a conversation that jumps around from topic to topic in a random fashion can be very arduous. A conversation will also typically move from the general to the more specific. Therefore, you might consider putting your general and non-threatening questions up front. This will serve to draw respondents into the survey and help to maintain the integrity of the whole survey.

We also often see surveys that begin with demographic questions. Some feel that they can be somewhat intrusive at the beginning, so you might want to think about leaving these types of questions for the very end of your survey. Let's move on now to question wording. As you develop your survey, you should be continually asking yourself, will the respondent understand this question, is the language appropriate for the respondent? Always remember to keep it simple and avoid complicated language. As well, avoid ambiguous and vague wording.

Ask yourself is there a common agreement in the terms I'm using? For example, we might use in the past year, have you contacted customer support? Do we need since the beginning of the year or the past 52 weeks? Give very precise instructions for each question. For example, instruct the respondent to check one box only or check all that apply. It's also a good idea to emphasize important words in the question or instructions. If you're providing the respondent with a list of alternatives in a close-ended question, make sure that the list of responses contains all possibilities.

This list should give them the opportunity to check "other." This can be followed with please specify and a textbox so that you can capture this information. Also allow for the possibility that the respondent might not know the answer, or the question is not applicable to them. Therefore, it's usually a good idea to include a don't know or not applicable option as a possible choice. Open-ended questions should be used sparingly as respondents can quickly tire of completing open-ended questions. Second, when you're dealing with the results, the coding of responses can be quite challenging and time-consuming.

It's always a good idea to place one at the end of the survey that will allow the respondent to express opinions that they haven't had a chance to throughout the survey. A typical wording might be something like, do you have any final thoughts or opinions regarding the topics discussed in the survey? Now to improve your odds of collecting valid response data, here's a list of items that you will want to avoid in the construction of your questionnaire or survey. Avoid any words that may be unclear to a respondent, such as acronyms or other unfamiliar words.

Avoid modifying objectives such as usually, often, sometimes, occasionally, regularly. These terms can mean different things to different respondents. You should also avoid double-barreled questions like, how would you rate us for our honesty and integrity? The respondent may feel that you're highly honest but have integrity issues. Avoid asking respondents to answer questions that are difficult that rely too much on memory or require the respondent to guess. In the same way, avoid questions that ask respondents to make difficult estimates like how many times in the past year have you accessed our web site.

In this example, it would be easier to answer the question if the time frame was expressed, say, in months. Avoid the use of hypothetical questions like what would you do if our support structure changed? Also, recognize the questions about future behavior are at best unreliable, just keeping in mind that the people have a hard time predicting what they might do or think next year, next month, or even tomorrow for that matter. Now the response rate for a survey is determined by dividing the number of people who completed a questionnaire by the total number of people who were eligible to participate in that questionnaire.

Improving your response rate increases the reliability of the survey results. A low response rate leaves us wondering if our respondents are representative of the total sample universe, or are they atypical? So let's explore a few tips you can use to help improve your response rate and improve your confidence in the results of your survey. Generally, there is a direct correlation between the length of the questionnaire and the response rate, for example, the shorter the survey, the better the response rate.

Make the questions relevant to your audience, and they will enjoy completing them more. Consider getting a third party endorsement. Response rates typically improve with the endorsement of, say, an association or a publication. How about offering an incentive? Using an incentive will almost always improve your response rate, and they don't have to break the bank. You could send all those who responded to a survey a copy of the results, for example. And this will be dependent, of course, on the nature of the survey.

Another option is to enter the respondent's name into a draw for, say, a cash prize or a draw for a prize that is relevant or consistent with the profession of those you're surveying. Or you could offer to make a charitable donation based on the number of responses you receive. In closing, an online survey tool is not the only tool in the box. We really need to let the objectives strive the methodology and not the other way around if we hope to collect real, meaningful data.

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Up and Running with Online Surveys

18 video lessons · 7238 viewers

David Rivers
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