They say that if you want the right answers, you have to ask the right questions … and when it comes to survey design there is more to asking the right questions than first meets the eye. If you’ve ever wondered what was going through people’s heads, and you’re motivated enough to actually ask them about it, you need to know a few things about question design first. Today we check out some simple best practices to follow in creating your next staff or customer survey.
1. Know Your Goals
In order to design effective questions, you need to be very clear about the reason you’re asking them. No doubt you’re aware that you need to know what people are thinking about a particular issue … but just as with other areas of life, your goals for your opinion survey should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Limited. Start with the end in mind, and ensure the questions you ask in your survey will arm you with the data you require to produce a report that hits the mark.
2. Be Upfront About the Time Investment
People will rarely buy an item without knowing its full price. By the same token, there are few people who’ll take an opinion survey without knowing exactly how long it will take. Time 2-3 employees who have never seen the survey questions before, and use this as your time guide. Remember that if completing the survey takes significantly longer than people expect, they’re likely to abandon it.
3. Use a Progress Bar
Let people know how far they are through the opinion survey at all times, using a percentage progress bar at the top of the screen. You’ll find far fewer people abandoning in the last few questions if they know the end is in sight.
4. It’s Okay Not to Know
Nobody wants to go to all the trouble of designing and administering an opinion survey only to find that most people ‘don’t know’ the answer. However, if you don’t include a ‘Not Applicable’ or ‘Don’t Know’ option in your answer options, the integrity of your attitude survey data can be compromised.
5.It’s Okay Not to Fit In
We tell our teenagers this all the time, and the wisdom should carry over into your attitude survey design! Always provide an option for ‘Other – please specify’, and allow people to describe their own alternative option. You may discover something that you previously had no idea about.
6. Be Specific, Unbiased and Singular
Good opinion survey questions will be specific about their topic, will not introduce any sort of bias, and will ask about a single topic per question.
7. Give People the Security of Anonymity
You’ll need, at a minimum, to tell people that their responses are strictly confidential. Don’t ask for any personally identifiable information unless you absolutely need it (and are clear about its use), and if possible, limit your demographic information to items that are essential for the survey, but which don’t allow for individual identification in their sum. For example, if you are surveying everybody within a division of 50 people; don’t ask people to specify their exact age, their sex AND their tenure, which could all be matched up against admin records to create a positive identification.
8. Do a Dry Run
Always pre-test your survey on a small group of respondents, asking for feedback on:
– The length of time it took
– The manner in which sensitive items were asked
– The flow of the questions
– The clarity of questions asked
– Any further ideas for improvement
9. Clear Up Unstated Problems
Your test respondents may say that everything is fine with your survey, but use their ‘dummy data’ to look for warning signs that your results will be less than useful:
– Too many items left blank
– Too many ‘Don’t Know’ or ‘Not Applicable’ responses
– Too many unfinished surveys
– Instructions aren’t being followed correctly
– A particular response often given in ‘Other’
10. Consider sampling
If you have a large target audience and quite a few questions to ask, consider using sampling techniques so that only a percentage of your respondents answer particular questions. This will allow you to get a better breadth of information, while decreasing potential dropouts.
Opinion surveys are often marketed as ‘the opportunity to make a difference’ or ‘being able to tell companies what you really think’. So respect the time commitment they have given you by ensuring your survey is planned and executed in a professional manner.
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