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Eight Characteristics of Effective Surveys
(Marketing Memo August 2010)

Online surveys are relatively easy to set up and inexpensive to administer, yet, like all surveys are hard to design. To design a good survey, identify who needs what information, why they need the information, and what they plan to do with the results. Make sure that respondents are motivated to participate, know the purpose of the survey, and can easily understand and respond to your questions. Here are eight characteristics of effective surveys:

Sufficient demographic information - Even if you use a customer list or other targeted list for a customer satisfaction or other study, you may later want to analyze the results by smaller segments. Identify segments of interest at the beginning. Then, include a few relevant demographic questions, e.g., zip code or region, company size and industry, product or service used, or respondents' job titles.

Focused surveys - Avoid question creep. If you are asking questions about service and support, resist requests from colleagues to insert questions on other issues, such as branding, that waste questions or make the survey seem unfocused.

Clear questions - Make questions easy to understand by avoiding acronyms, technical words, complex sentences, and ambiguous language. Define terms, such as "cloud computing" or "the cloud," that can mean different things. Simplify sentences. Be concrete.

One-part questions - Subdivide two-part questions. If participants agree with one part of the question, but not the other, their answers will not be meaningful.

Other options - When none of the answers to multiple choice questions apply, respondents will select any response. If you provide options, such as "other," "neutral," or "none-of-the-above," followed by "please explain," responses will be more accurate. And, the comments will provide unexpected insights.

Logical sequencing of questions - When you have formulated the questions, check if the sequence of questions is logical. If you say go from Question 9 to Question 12, make sure to have a Question 12, and make sure that Question 12 logically follows Question 9.

Motivation - Use approaches, such as email, phone calls, or direct mail, to invite the target group to participate in the study. Make sure that participants are sympathetic with the purpose of the survey or are interested in the subjects covered in the survey. Provide an incentive or share some of the results.

Openness - Use results as you promised. If you say you will report aggregate data, do not reveal participants' names or company names. Deceptive practices give companies bad reputations and cloud future relationships with participants.

Well-designed surveys help you identify new markets and new customers and ultimately new sources of revenue. They can also help you find ways to derive more revenue from existing customers. Whether you use an online or traditional survey instrument, you should first think of the desired uses and the expected benefits of the survey, and then develop good survey questions and survey logic. We can help you with this process.

Copyright 2011 Ruth Winett. All rights reserved.

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