Writing surveys is considered easy; but is it? The truth is that writing surveys is easy but writing surveys that will be effective is a little bit more difficult. The following twenty tips will help you write more effective surveys.
1. What is the purpose of the survey?
Surveys are conducted for many reasons. By correctly phrasing the questions and structuring the answers surveys can be used in a multitude of ways and for a variety of reasons. When designing a survey do not lose sight of its purpose.
2. Title the survey
The survey title is key and an opportunity to instantly summarise a survey’s objective and grab the attention of invited respondents. Respondents need to invest time in completing the survey so make them feel that their investment is worthwhile.
3. Avoid making the survey any longer than it needs to be
Every question that is asked should be asked for a reason. Minimize asking questions that will provide you with ‘nice to know’ information and concentrate instead on ‘need to know’ questions.
4. Use plain English, maintain consistency and avoid jargon, acronyms and asking questions that could result in ambiguous answers
Care must be taken in wording a question. If a question can be interpreted in more ways than one then there is a real risk that any analysis of the survey data will be meaningless or at the very least misleading.
5. Don’t have long questions
Where practical use concise sentences. Long questions can cause a respondent to lose concentration and lead to them abandoning the survey.
6. Ask one question at a time
Avoid confusing the respondent with a question like ‘Do you like golf and football?’
7. Avoid influencing the answer
It is important to avoid loading the question. ‘Should irresponsible shop keepers who sell tobacco to children be prosecuted?’ is unlikely to have any value.
8. Ensure that the chosen answer format allows the respondent to answer the question being asked
Ensure that the respondent is able to answer how they really feel or they may be less inclined to complete the survey. As a last resort consider the benefit of including a “No comment”, “Don’t know” or similar response option.
9. When you are compiling your survey consider how the compiled data is going be analysed when the survey is complete
Appreciate that questions that allow for a free text open ended response is likely to be difficult to score and/or summarised. Consider how the answers could be grouped. For example “How long have you worked here?” – ‘less than 2 year’, ‘between 2 and 5 years’ and ‘more than 5’.
10. Ensure that the questionnaire flows
Group questions into clear categories as this will make it easier for the participants completing the survey.
11. Target your respondents carefully
In some cases you will want to target a specific group, in others a cross section. If you can’t control who responds to your survey consider including questions/answers that will allow you to filter out respondents who don’t fit your target profile.
12. Allow the respondent to expand or make comments
By allowing respondents to make additional comments you will increase their satisfaction level and the comments will also give valuable feedback on the specific questions and/or the survey as a whole. Remember that for large sample collections that free text open-ended responses may be difficult to analyse.
13. If the survey you are conducting is to be confidential ensure that your pledge is upheld
If you have guaranteed the respondents that the survey is confidential ensure that the individual data is not to be shared with anyone and the information is not going to be used for any other purpose. Confidentiality must be maintained and any contact information deleted after the survey is complete.
14. Weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of allowing respondents to be anonymous or identifiable
If your respondents are to be anonymous then you will be unable to follow up specific complaints or match “pre” or “post” surveys. Allowing people to remain anonymous can however have advantages for example it would allow people to respond without possible peer pressure.
15. Carefully consider the best response format
Maintaining a consistency in the format used for responses is good practice. When creating your survey keep in mind that when analysing the data radio buttons are easier to analyse than check boxes that offer the respondent multiple responses. If a radio response can be used do not use a check box.
16. Inform the respondent as to the approximate time it will take to complete the survey
If the survey appears to be a stream of never ending questions then respondent drop out can become a problem. It is good practice to give an indication as to how long the survey is likely to take so that the participants can choose the best time to complete the survey.
17. Inform respondents of the survey end date
Encourage your invited respondents to complete the survey as soon as possible but advise the respondents of the survey