Top Tips to Writing Effective Surveys

How to create a survey using Survey Galaxy

Writing surveys is considered easy; but is it? The truth is that creating surveys is easy but creating effective surveys is more difficult. The following tips will help you write more effective surveys.

1. What is the survey’s purpose?

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 don’t lose sight of its purpose.

2. Title the survey

The survey title is a golden 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 encourage them that the investment they make will be worthwhile.

3. Don’t make the survey any longer than it needs to be

Every question that is asked should be asked for a reason. Minimize the questions providing you with ‘nice to know’ information and focus instead on the ‘need to know’ questions.

4. Use plain English, maintain consistency, avoid jargon and acronyms and don’t ask questions that may result in ambiguous answers

Take care when 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 resulting survey data will be worthless or at the very least suspect.

5. Avoid having long questions

Try to use concise sentences wherever possible. Long questions tend to cause respondents discomfort and can lead to respondents abandoning a survey.

6. Ask one question at a time

Avoid confusing the respondent with a question like ‘Do you like tennis and athletics?’

7. Avoid influencing the answer

Avoid loading the question. ‘Should irresponsible shop keepers who sell cigarettes to minors be prosecuted?’ is likely to have no value.

8. Make sure that the selected answer format allows the respondent to answer the question being asked

Allow the respondent to answer how they really feel or they may be inclined to abandon the survey. As a last resort consider the benefit of including a “Don’t know”, “Can’t say” or similar response option.

9. While you are compiling your survey consider how the survey results are going to be analysed when the survey is complete

When asking questions that allow for a free text open ended response appreciate that such information is likely to be difficult to score and/or summarised. Consider how answers can be grouped. For example “Indicate your length of service?” – ‘less than 1 year’, ‘between 1 and 4 years’ and ‘more than 4’.

10. Try and ensure that the questionnaire flows

When asking questions group the questions into clear categories as this makes the task of completing the survey easier for the participants.

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. Provide a channel for your respondents to expand on their answers or make comments

Allowing the respondent to make additional comments will increase their satisfaction level and will also give valuable feedback on the specific questions and/or the survey as a whole. Remember that for large sample collections it may prove difficult to analyze free text open ended responses.

13. If you are conducting a confidential survey ensure that your pledge for confidentiality is honoured

If you have assured the respondents that the survey is confidential ensure that the individual data is not to be shared with anyone and not used for any other purpose. Confidentiality must be maintained at all times and any contact information destroyed after the survey is complete.

14. Consider the benefits 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. However in some cases allowing people to remain anonymous will allow people to respond without possible peer pressure.

15. Carefully consider what the best response format will be

It is good practice to maintain a consistency in the format used for responses. Keep in mind that when analysing the data radio buttons are easier to analyse than check boxes that offer the respondent multiple responses. Do not use a check box if a radio response would do.

16. Give the respondent an idea of how much time the survey will take

If the survey appears to be a stream of never ending questions then respondent drop can increase. It is good practice to give an indication as to how long the survey is likely to take so that the participants can determine the best time to complete the survey.

17. Inform the respondents of the survey end date

Encourage respondents to complete the survey as soon as possible but advise respondents as to the survey’s end date so that they have the opportunity to schedule the necessary time.

18. Test the survey

Before publishing a live survey publish a small pilot survey to check for questions that are ambiguous or confusing and to ensure that the survey is aesthetically pleasing.

19. Before publishing the survey check the survey several times

Check more than once that the survey is grammatically correct and makes sense. If possible get someone else to proof read the survey before you publish, if no one else is available then take a break before checking again.

20. Remember to say thank you

To complete surveys respondents have to devote their time and should be thanked at the end of completing the survey or in a follow up letter. You may even want to consider incentives such as a prize draw or reward.

For further information please visit Survey Galaxy

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