PCF Tips for Effective Online Survey Design and Writing Good Questions

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Example Online Survey FormBefore beginning your survey design, it is important to know what the purpose of your survey is. What information do you need? What will the survey help you to decide? Will you take action based on the survey responses? It is wise to keep your objectives simple and clearly defined. Measurement, analysis and resulting implementation will be more effective if your objectives are clear and specific. Consider the following two objectives:

Objective 1: To find out what our customers think about our newest survey product.

This objective is very vague, broad, and difficult to quantify. What action can you take if the results come back that they like or dislike it? It is not specific enough to provide enough data to work with.

Objective 2: The objective of this survey is to determine what features of online survey products are considered valuable to our market.

This objective focuses on features of survey products (not just ours) and responses could very well inspire a company to invest future effort on those specific features that are attractive to the market.

Prepare an introduction: Make the intent, objective and possible outcomes of your survey clear to your sample by writing a relevant title and short introductory paragraph. Include the importance of the survey and how long it should take to complete. Before anyone completes a survey, they need to understand why the survey is relevant to them, what the investment is and how it might benefit them if they complete it. Might taking part in the survey influence prices of a product they use? Might it result in new features that they want? A persuasive introduction explaining the importance and potential benefits of the survey will help increase the number of employees or customers who take the time to complete it.

Keep it short: It seems that nobody has time to stop and chat any more. They certainly don't have time to spend 45 minutes answering questions on your survey. Keep your survey simple and focus on the key objective. If you can gather the data that you need in 10 short questions, then do so. Every question on a survey should be relevant to your objective.

Extra points to keep in mind as you write your questions:

1. Be brief: You should focus on "need to know" questions and minimise "nice to know" information. Brief questionnaires have higher response rates.

2. Start with non-threatening questions: Make the first question relevant to the title/purpose, and make it easy to answer. Avoid asking for identifying information in the beginning of the survey.

3. Use plain language: Be direct and use simple language so that respondents can answer quicker and more accurately.

4. Include simple instructions: When necessary, include instructions about how to complete each section and how to mark the answers to ensure that the survey is completed correctly.

5. Make sure it looks professional: Always proof read your questionnaire and assure that the survey design is appropriate to the topic. A professional survey creates a favourable image in the mind of the respondents about you.

6. Ask only one question at a time: Avoid "double-barrelled" questions that confuse the respondent. Consider the confusion created by these examples:

  • Do you like cats and dogs?
  • Do you like tennis or do you like golfing?

7. Use open-ended questions only when the responses add value to the survey research.

8. Avoid jargon and technical wording: Use plain language in your questions. While ISP, XML and RSS might be very familiar to you and your industry, they might not be familiar to many of your customers or administrative personnel.

9. Provide space to tell more: At the end of the survey, give respondents an opportunity to comment about the survey or general topic using an open-ended question.

10. Put important questions first: Respondents may get fatigued or hurried by later questions. Include questions about demographic information at the end so the earlier parts of questionnaire focus on gathering data necessary to meet your survey objectives.

11. Avoid agreement bias: By framing both positive and negative questions, your respondents will evaluate each question rather than uniformly agreeing or disagreeing to all of the responses.

12. Avoid the response option "other": Careless responders will overlook the option they should have designated and conveniently mark the option "other."

13. Keep your survey short: Limit the number of questions based on your target audience. For example you can ask more questions to customers as compared to web-site visitors.

And finally:

Provide an incentive: If you are worried about your sample size, and you should be, give respondents an incentive for completing the survey. Although small representative samples are considered to be relevant, larger sample sizes provide a more accurate reflection of the market. Think about giving respondents a discount on particular products or services; or offer them a free e-book or subscription to your newsletter.

Say thank you: Never forget to acknowledge the time and effort that your respondents invested in helping you with your survey. A simple thank you at the end of the survey makes respondents feel valued for their contribution. And they should be valued.

By evaluating how important each question is to gathering the information you need, and by carefully wording the response options, you will collect information which will yield more satisfactory and meaningful results.

InstaSurvey from PCF will help you quickly design your survey form using all of these ideas and the real time analyser gives you immediate reporting of all your results.

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