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Tips for Creating Great Surveys
Below are some tips for creating well structured surveys to obtain the information you want from your survey participants. In this world of information overload it can be confusing to know exactly what information you really need as well as to know the best way to get that information.

1) Keep your survey brief, concise and relevant.

Know what the essential information you are trying to obtain is and why you need that information and what you will do with it. Do not ask questions that do not give you the essential data that you really need and can use. If a question is not important enough to report on or to make a difference to your business or organization, then it is unnecessary. The more questions you ask and the less relevant the questions are the higher your non-participation rate will be.

Research shows that people do not like to read large amounts of text on the computer screen and will skip over large, heavily condensed text items. You will lose potential participants of your survey if your questions are long or complicated. Your survey completion rate will be higher if your survey questions are short and meaningful.

2) Keep your survey interesting

Interesting questions will keep the respondent reading so they complete the survey. Long, boring surveys will encourage your participants to skim the survey, not complete it fully or quit altogether.

3) Choose the right question type for the data you need to obtain.

Your questions must gather the information you are looking for or they are wasted questions. Try to be specific about the answers you request so that you get the real information you need and can use. For instance, if you are trying to determine the menu for a function, you could ask “Do you eat chicken?” Y or N. If they answer N you do not know if they eat Beef or Pork or if they are vegetarian.

Additionally, be wary of simple Yes or No answers unless that is exactly all the information you need. More often, Y or N answers will require further information from the participant and you may find that you need to follow it with more questions or may need to use comment boxes to get the information you are looking for. Free form answers are hard to analyze and cannot be graphed automatically. You may spend much longer analyzing your results than if you collected the information using a more targeted question which can be automatically graphed using the WebSurveyMaster analysis tools.

4) Know how you will use the information collected.

Think about how you will want to analyze your information when you get it? Will you need to graph it and present it. Will you need to follow-up with certain population groups of your survey? What actions will you take based on the results you get back? Do you need to compare the information with last years survey?

5) Do not overwhelm your survey participants.

Don’t make your survey participants uneasy with fancy use of language, industry acronyms and legalese. Your survey recipients will be put off your survey if it sounds complicated or is difficult or impossible to understand. They may also be suspicious of the questions they are answering if the terms used are confusing or the questions difficult to comprehend. Remember that your survey participant base may come from many backgrounds, education levels. They may not read, write or speak your language well and they may not have the same industry or organizational knowledge as you. Write your survey in terms that most people can understand.

6) Present your survey from a neutral perspective.

Your survey should be designed to gather information and opinions from your participants. These are the perceptions and opinions that you are trying to find out. Providing bias to your survey will skew your results and may discourage recipients from participating in your survey. Additionally, your bias may impede the analysis of the survey results.\, making it less useful that you had hoped.

7) Relax your grammar but not your spelling!

Do not make your questions sound too formal. This can put your participants off. For instance “who” might be used instead of “whom” to make the question more participant friendly. Remember that your survey is a tool which should make your participants feel relaxed and willing to share information with you. You should however make sure that your spelling is correct. Bad spelling stands out and makes you look unprofessional and will irk your recipients.

8) Keep your questions simple and logical.

Be sure to ask only one question at a time and put them in a logical order. Complex questions (questions which ask the participant to reflect on more than one situation at the same time) are confusing and are likely to be answered incorrectly or not at all. E.g. If you bought a new car this year, and it was white, what month did you buy it in? Complex questions are also difficult to extract the exact information you were looking to obtain and to analyze automatically.

If your questions do not flow logically, your participants will become confused and/or irritated, neither of which will give a favorable impression of your business or organization. Try to keep your questions grouped by similar informational categories. Bouncing back and forth between different informational question categories will make the flow of the survey awkward and will make it seem longer and more complicated than it is.

9) Do not ask superfluous questions.

For example, if you ask your participants their date of birth you do not also need to ask them for their age or age range.

10) Avoid double negatives and difficult concepts.

Survey participants like to feel comfortable with the questions being asked. If they have to try to interpret what the question means they will abandon the survey. Most people are easily perplexed when trying to interpret the meaning of a question that uses double negatives. Even if they do answer the question you cannot be sure that the answer given was the answer they intended so your information may well be flawed and your interpretation of the results may be incorrect. If your survey is too complex and/or difficult to understand it will not be completed.

11) Avoid specific recall questions.

People often lose detail of events or circumstances that happened a while back. Conduct your surveys at appropriate times for the information you are trying to obtain, such as within a few days of a service appointment to get your customers feedback on the appointment. If you leave it too long, you will not get the feedback you were looking for.

12) Use more closed-ended questions, with no more than one or two open-ended questions.

Respondents usually have a better understanding of closed-ended questions because they are more straightforward and offer responses they can choose from.

Open-ended questions require a written response. An excessive number of open-ended questions can wear down the respondent and reduce the quality of the answers they provide.

13) Balance graded responses. Don’t overdo it!

Usually 5 ratings should be good enough Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor, Terrible … avoid too many choices such as Excellent, Very Good, Good, Above Average, Average, Below Average, Poor, Very Poor, Awful … it is too confusing to know the level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction to that degree .. usually we know whether it was a great experience or a disastrous one. It might have been OK or not great or we have not real opinion but grades in between are hard to determine. Additionally the analysis of such data is cumbersome and you will probably end up combining results into more manageable groups anyway. Not only that you have to type it all in to your questions answers to start with!! So save yourself time and effort and keep it simple up front!

14) Be Specific not Vague!

Use specifics rather than generalities for quantities. Try to gather specific data that can be easily analyzed. For instance, say you wanted to know at what time of day tour service appointment was at. You could ask “what time of day was your service appointment?” and solicit the answer in a comment box. This will be very difficult to analyze as it will be free form comments and you will have to individually read the answers. On the other hand you could ask “what time of day was your service appointment?” with answer choices to choose from such as 8:00am-10:00am, 10:01am-noon, 12:01-2:00pm, 2:00-4:00pm, 4:00pm-6:00pm. Not only is this easier for your participant to answer (simply click the answer rather than type) but it allows for easy analysis and graphing when your survey results come in.

15) Name your Survey and say what it’s for!

This lets your recipients know what the survey is about and why they are being asked to participate. It also gives them confidence that you are asking for this information for a good reason, say to improve your business or make for a better service experience for you as a customer another time. If your customer had a particularly good experience or a particularly bad experience they will be inclined to participate in your survey if they feel that their voice is being heard. If the survey seems to be just more time-filling junk mail they will probably overlook it. Remember you are interested in their responses so be sure to let them know their opinions are important to you.

If you are sending the survey out in an email you can capture the attention of your survey recipients by writing a well written, polite introduction to your survey that explains what the survey is and why you are asking the recipient to participate.

16) Be sure to say Thank-You!

Remember to say thank you for participating at the end of your survey. If your participant feels like their opinions were important they are more likely to participate again in the future.

We hope that these tips offer some useful tips on building surveys. They should at least help you obtain the information that you really wanted to obtain and be able to analyze your survey results quickly and easily. So go ahead and build yourself a great survey with WebSurveyMaster!