And the Survey Says…

A survey is often the best way to get information and feedback to use in your decision making. This very important first step should not be taken lightly. As the old saying goes, garbage in, garbage out.

The objective of any survey is high quality information that is gathered through a high response rate from your target population. Whether you are engaging customers or employees or even patients, you want to be able to effectively ask questions and get answers that are relevant to the objectives of your organization.

Let’s talk about designing a survey that accomplishes all of this.

What are your goals?

Are you trying to decide which product version to move forward to production? Figure out why your organization has increasing turnover? Or what treatment has been most effective for a particular patient population? Knowing your ultimate objective is imperative in guiding the rest of your survey creation.

What is your target population?

Is your target population relatively small and easy to contact? If so, then it may be feasible to survey the entire population. If your population is large you have to take into consideration sampling techniques. This allows you to only contact a subset of the population in order to be able to draw conclusions about the group as a whole. Stay tuned for more posts about proper sampling techniques.

Question creation

Always keep your audience in mind when writing questions. Make sure your questions are direct and easy-to-understand. Short, specific questions will elicit a higher response rate.

Be straightforward. Make sure to avoid bias, leading or hypothetical questions. Remember that simple words and specific language will yield precise answers.

Use open-ended questions sparingly and never make them mandatory.

Types of scales

With close-ended questions there is often the debate about how many options to give respondents. Is an odd or even amount better? Are 5 options better than 7 options?

First, we recommend going with an odd number. Forcing respondents to answer a question on an even scale will bias your end results as truly neutral people must select a category that does not truly represent their opinion. An odd number of options will give you more variance and overall better results for analysis.

As for 5 point scales versus 7, the bottom line is if you’ve spent time debating this you’ve spent too much time. It’s far more important to focus on good question creation and finding good benchmarks. And remember to create your scales from low to high (e.g. least important to most important, or disagree to agree, etc.).

Timing

Lastly, much like how we recommend keeping your questions short and to the point, so should the survey itself. You’re asking people to take time out of their busy day to help you out, usually for free.

You’re likely to get a higher response rate if your recipients knew why they were getting the survey and how it is helping them in the end. Being respectful of someone’s time can be applied to pretty much anything, including surveys.