Great Survey Design: Planning Your Survey

April 5, 2012

The most successful survey creators know that creating a survey starts long before you start clicking around in whatever survey software you use. Creating a survey takes time – you can’t just go off half-cocked, pull in every question that you want answered, and expect to gather the data you need.

If you want to ensure that your survey succeeds, you need to keep a few steps in mind as you plan your survey:

1. Identify your need.

Every survey has a reason – you might need to collect contact info from all of your customers, ask their opinions on proposed new products, or determine their satisfaction with your customer service. It’s important to identify that need, and keep it in your mind. Without a goal and targeted learning objectives, a survey is useless.

Take out a piece of paper and write down what you hope to learn from your survey. You’ll be glad you did.

2. Plan how you’ll take action on the data.

As we’ve said many times before, it’s not enough to collect data – you need to collect actionable data. As you start to conceptualize your survey, look ahead to when you have the results in hand. What actions will you take based on the data you collect? What if the data comes out differently than expected? Do you have a plan for that?

3. Resist the urge to let the scope creep.

In a large or a small organization, it’s all too easy to let your survey get out of hand. Different departments sometimes decide they want to ask a few questions in the survey. An executive may have a few more questions he wants to slip in. Or you may find yourself slipping in little bits of “nice-to-know” questions.

Don’t do it. Focus on the goal you wrote out from step one, and make sure every question you include fits that goal. If you don’t, your respondents will find themselves taking a 30-page survey full of table-of-checkboxes questions. (And if they find that, they’ll probably leave your survey partially finished.)

4. Eliminate bias.

We all have biases. And when creating a survey, most of us have a result we’d like to see. That’s why we all have to be extra-careful to not let that bias enter into our questions.

Once you have a rough outline of your survey questions, read through them with the mindset of someone who doesn’t share your opinion about the way you’d like to see the survey results turn out. You’ll be surprised at the small things you find that might lead your respondents in one direction.

Additionally, go back and think about the question types you’re using. Do any of them have an implicit positive or negative bias to them?

By ensuring that you have a solid plan for your survey – its purpose, its goals, and what you plan to do with the data you collect – you’ll craft a much more focused, effective survey. And that’s before you even open up your survey software.

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