Steps Towards an Effective Survey (Part I)

By Marcie Levine

Over the course of the past several years, I have received many requests to complete an online survey.  Sometimes these surveys are designed well, with questions that only ask for feedback on one idea, skip logic that makes sense, and the ability to not respond to a question that I cannot answer.  However, what I have also seen are poorly designed surveys that are far too long, have programmed logic that is poorly designed, and don’t let me know what will happen with the collected data.  I sometimes wonder how the creators of these surveys make good decisions based upon the results of surveys like these.

With the advent of easy-to-use online survey software, anyone with a computer and a little time can design and post a survey, collect data, and review the results.  At the end of the project, the survey project manager should be able to say that they

  • Understood their targeted objective
  • Designed their survey without bias
  • Reached the ‘right’ audience
  • Collected enough data, and
  • Understood the feedback

Whether you decide to drive the survey process yourself, or whether you decide to use survey consultants, there are steps that need to be taken for every successful survey.  These steps are broken down by the design, administration, analysis and reporting processes.  In this blog we’ll start with Design issues.


Step #1: Determine the Objective(s)

It is important to pin down the objectives before beginning the survey process because they are the reference points that guide the survey. Your objectives will influence the number of questions while shaping content and administration. Some questions to ask that will help determine the objectives of the survey include:

  • Why is this survey being done?
  • What problem needs solving?
  • How will the collected data be put to use?

When making decisions on the target audience, the demographic questions, and the survey structure, you can return to the statement of objectives to ensure that what is being asked will achieve the desired result.

Step #2: Obtain Commitment

The results of the survey will probably be used to change or shape programs, products or services. To produce the right kind of data that will help steer these decisions, it is crucial to make sure that the people who requested the survey are committed to and involved in the survey process.

Writing a plan that includes key actions, dates, roles and responsibilities, as well as other resources needed to administer and communicate the survey’s results may be helpful. The chances of a successful survey are usually increased if you have clearly communicated the plan to the people involved.

Step #3: Determine the Deployment Method for the Survey

What is the best way to reach the intended audience?  In today’s world you can often administer your survey electronically via the Internet, as a paper and pencil process, as a telephone survey, or a combination of methods.  This article focuses on online surveys.

The primary advantage of administering a survey electronically lies in the ability to gather responses quickly and inexpensively. A web-based process also crosses geographic boundaries easily, and can provide economic advantages based upon scale and volume of survey respondents.

Online survey tools vary in features, functionality and price. Some systems allow you to create and post a survey on your own in-house server; others have a system where they host the assessment on the vendor’s server, but provide you access to status information and reports.

Step #4: Identify the Survey Respondents

When identifying potential survey respondents and determining how to reach them, some useful questions to ask are:

  • How big is the potential base?
  • Will all respondents in the group be surveyed, or only a portion of the respondents?
  • If only a portion of the respondents will be surveyed, will you survey a random sample of the group or a specific subset of the group?
  • What demographic data will be needed?

Next time we’ll discuss survey construction…

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About the author

Marcie Levine

Marcie Levine

Prior to founding SurveyConnect, Marcie had more than twelve-years of experience in HR, both as a consultant and in several corporate positions. As an HR consultant, she worked on a variety of client assignments, including the design and implementation of surveys. She created SurveyConnect to streamline and simplify the process of survey creation and administration. Marcie has published articles about 360 feedback process in trade magazines, including the International Society for Performance Improvement, Selling Power, T+D Magazine, and Quirk’s Marketing Research Review.