4 survey design tips to get more accurate results

Collecting survey data is a great way to understand what your customers think about your products or gain insights into the issues they face. You can use survey data internally to make strategic decisions or externally for your content marketing efforts. But your data is only relevant if it’s accurate, and poor survey design can give you incomplete or incorrect results.

Don’t invest in collecting and analyzing survey data without having a clear understanding of survey design. Follow these tips to make sure your participants are engaged and ready to provide accurate results. 

Develop goals for each survey

Every survey you create should have a purpose, whether you’re sending out a question related to your customers’ experience or trying to identify your target audience’s key pain points. Too often, companies send out surveys that are too long and aren’t specific, asking about everything from the website experience to shipping prices — and that’s one sure way to annoy your customers.

If you really want answers to these questions, break up your surveys into shorter questionnaires that focus on one goal at a time. You can get the data you need faster — and it can make the process of developing questions much easier.  

“Writing questions that are aligned with your research goals will help you stay focused on asking what you need to know, and it helps respondents stay focused as they answer your questions,” this post from B2B marketing agency Godfrey explains. 

Staying focused on your goals can help with other aspects of survey design, like avoiding ambiguous, overly complicated questions. 

Limit your open-ended questions

As you design your survey, think about developing quick questions that people can answer in a few minutes. Creating multiple-choice questions and simple yes-or-no queries can result in higher completion rates and better engagement.

“Open-ended questions can be used for qualitative data, but since they take longer to fill out and review, it’s best to only include them when looking for specific feedback or when working with smaller audiences,” Swetha Amaresan writes on the HubSpot blog. Survey participants usually want to get through questionnaires quickly, which means they’re less likely to think through their answers or take the time to write a detailed response.

If you use open-ended questions, Amaresan recommends placing them toward the end of the survey to avoid overwhelming your participants from the start.

The best way to obtain qualitative data is to conduct in-depth interviews with a few people based on the data you have. The results of these qualitative interviews can pair with your quantitative data.

Keep your survey short and simple

Another way to keep respondents engaged is to keep your survey short. Know exactly what kind of information you want to gather. 

“Most studies indicate that surveys that take five minutes or less to complete tend to get the best response rate,” writes Cameron Johnson, business segment leader at business phone software provider Nextiva. “Anything longer than 11 minutes is just too long and is likely to result in higher abandonment rates or worse, random answers.”

Johnson shares a chart that shows the relationship between the number of questions in a survey and the amount of time respondents spend finishing it. They’ll complete a survey with 10 questions in five minutes or less, spending 30 seconds per question on average. But they’ll run through a survey with 30 questions in about 10 minutes, dedicating only 19 seconds per question.

In other words, if your survey is very long, people will likely speed up their responses to get through it faster. They probably won’t think about their answers and might misread the questions — and that will impact the quality of your data. You can get better results by keeping your survey brief.

Review the wording in your survey questions

As you design surveys, focus on your word choice for each question. The wrong question style can lead to biased answers or confusion about what you’re asking. Annie Pilon, a senior staff writer at Small Business Trends, shares some key tips for writing good questions:

  • Avoid leading questions that could create bias in your answers. For example, “When do you enjoy using this product?” creates more bias than “When was the last time you used this product?”
  • Ask only one question at a time. Too often, surveys lump together questions, which can create confusing results. For example, you should present “Do you prefer this product? If so, why?” as two separate questions. First, ask whether or not customers use a product, then ask why.
  • Provide opportunities for balanced results. Make sure to present balanced answer scales — with an equal number of positive and negative options separated by a neutral option — to prevent responses from skewing more or less favorable. An example of balanced response options is a scale that includes Excellent, Good, Average, Below Average, and Poor.      

If you aren’t sure whether your questions are confusing, find a test group to take your survey. Ask coworkers or friends for their feedback.

In some cases, your survey design will be a trial-and-error process. As you start launching surveys, you can learn what your audiences like and what they don’t. Then you can adjust your design to offer a format they’ll respond to positively. That will ensure you keep improving your data so your analytical insights are clear and accurate.

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