Traps to avoid when writing surveys
Writing a survey from scratch is not a doddle. It might seem a simple enough assignment to sit down and craft a list of questions, regardless of whether it’s about the viability of a new service offering or to seek consumers’ views about your industry. However, even if you’ve settled on some questions to pose, the way you ask them can have a big impact on the information you collect and your ability to make informed business decisions.
Here are our top five tips for writing surveys with purpose:
1. Be clear about the intent of the survey
If your survey doesn’t have a clear purpose, good luck trying to get anyone to take it. At the beginning of your survey, start with a short introduction such as, “Thank you for taking the time to complete this survey. We value your feedback so we can improve our service. Your responses will remain confidential.”
Of course, you should start with a well-defined picture of why you’re running the survey in the first place. Being clear internally on the information you’re trying to extract will help the focus of the survey and deliver clearer outcomes.
2. Avoid survey fatigue
Some industry experts claim an average survey respondent will start to feel bored about 15 minutes into a survey. Therefore, it’s a good idea to keep your surveys to 12 to 15 minutes – and even shorter if possible.
Moreover, if a survey is too long, respondents may drop out, which costs you money, and impacts the quality of the results. Having a carrot to encourage respondents to complete the survey is often worthwhile.
Brevity also forces you to focus on your “why” – the reason you’re writing and distributing the survey. Aiming for brevity helps you think about the most critical questions that will assist in retrieving the answers you need.
3. Don’t ask ‘leading’ or ‘loaded’ questions
Leading questions will steer your respondents towards answering a question in a certain way. For example, “We have recently upgraded Bank Australia’s website to become a first-class tool. What are your thoughts on this site?" A better way to elicit an unbiased response might involve asking: “What are your thoughts on the changes to the Bank Australia website?”
Likewise, loaded questions typically contain emotionally charged assumptions that can push a respondent toward answering a survey query in a specific way. For example, a loaded question might look something like this: “How appalling are payday lenders?” To remove the loading, try: “What is your view on payday lending?”
4. Inconsistent response scales
Common scales used for surveys can become cumbersome and confusing if the context changes. Here’s an example I came across recently. When answering a survey’s initial questions, respondents had to choose between 1-5, with 1 being “Strongly Disagree” and 5 being “Strongly Agree.”
However, later, they were asked to evaluate the importance of certain items. The trouble was that “1” was now assigned as “Most Important,” yet respondents had been using “5” as the most agreeable answer earlier. While many respondents may have recognised the switch, it’s fair to assume some missed it, giving inaccurate answers as a consequence. Maintaining scale consistency throughout is critical to writing a winning survey.
5. Failing to ask a follow up ‘why’ question
Although it’s tempting to stick with multiple choice queries and scales, some of your most valuable feedback will come from open-ended questions. There’s nothing worse than finding out that a third of your customers are thinking about switching to a competitor, but not knowing ‘why’ they are of this mindset.
That said, nothing makes a survey more intimidating, or annoying, than a huge text box attached to the very first question. It’s best to seek briefer responses early to create a sense of progress, before giving those respondents who’ve stayed with the survey the opportunity to elaborate nearer the end.
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