Whether you’re collecting customer feedback, performing employee evaluations, or planning an event, the first step toward creating an effective survey is to brush up on the basics of survey science. Check out our resources for online survey tips and best practices to make sure your next survey is a success!
Designing a great survey is like writing a great research paper—before you write about your findings, you need to ask questions about your research goal, your process, and break down your topic into manageable parts.
So before you start writing survey questions, ask yourself the big questions: What is the purpose of this survey? What do I hope to learn? How will the data I collect influence my decisions?
And one of the most important questions you should ask is, “What is my target population?” By “target population,” we mean the people who you want to take your survey. When you know who’s going to take your survey, you can write your survey using language, examples, definitions (and more) that are specific to your population’s knowledge and needs.
The best surveys are also written in clear language and have unbiased questions. And when you’re smart about survey format and question flow, you avoid satisficers (people who don’t think carefully about their answer choices, rush through your survey, or misrepresent themselves). Here are key tips and best practices for getting reliable survey results:
Once you’ve written your clear, well-formatted survey, it’s time to get people to take it. But where do you begin? You know who you want to take your survey, but how do you get it to them?
To make sure your data to be statistically significant, you first need to figure out how many people should take your survey–and what you can do to get a representative sample of the population. In order to reach the right people, you’ll also need to choose the appropriate survey mode (phone poll, paper questionnaire, in-person interview, or online survey) for your target population.
But wait! Before you send your survey, take it for a test drive. Make sure your questions are clear and that skip logic, question randomization, and the overall design are in working order. Send your survey to a friend–or do a practice run with real respondents in your target population–for a smarter approach to collecting survey data.
Here are more guidelines for collecting the data you need:
Success! You’ve got survey results. Now what? Because you need quality data to make accurate assessments and predictions, make sure the data you have is reliable, then slice and dice it to develop insights.
Were all your respondents completing your survey? Did they skip enough questions to taint your results? Did they really try to answer, or did they satisfice by picking easy but inaccurate answers? Look for irregularities to make sure your results are accurate.
Then try to answer the questions you had when you started the survey. Do text analysis to draw conclusions from open ended questions where people gave written answers. Filter and cross-tabulate your results to understand how different segments (like women and men) answered your survey.
And once you’ve found the data you’re looking for, find an effective way to present it. Whether you’re writing a big report that will inform your company’s marketing strategy, or fishing for Facebook likes with fun survey results, you want your report to be accurate and well-informed. Avoid analysis pitfalls like generalizing or misrepresenting the data–and consider alternate explanations for why respondents answered the way they did.
Finally, you’ll want to keep track of your process–from start to finish–so people can replicate your survey in the future. Repeat your survey to perform longitudinal analysis (or benchmarking) and see changes in people’s responses over time.
Sounds like a lot, right? Try diving into these articles to get all the answers about, well, how to get answers:
Here are some ideas to ensure that respondents will answer your surveys.
If your survey is short and sweet, there's a greater chance that more respondents will complete it.
Little incentives like small discount or an entry into a drawing can help ensure respondents complete your survey.
With SurveyMonkey Audience, you can purchase access to an audience who meets specific demographic criteria for your survey. It's a great way to get targeted responses from a specific group.