Survey Design

For non-researchers, the idea of crafting a survey can seem anything from utterly daunting to fairly trivial – the truth lies somewhere in between. The design of a survey is imperative to its success: a good survey greatly improves the quality of data provided, data which could ultimately be used to justify millions in investment. On the other hand, survey design is a skill anyone can learn, whether or not they have a background in research.

Working for a data collection agency I’ve had thousands of surveys cross my desk, many from non-researchers, and I’ve found there are a few key elements of survey design that can significantly affect the success (or failure) of the project.


Survey Design Questions to Ask Yourself


Who are you targeting?

Consideration of audience is the critical first stage of the project – whilst it happens long before pen hits paper on the questionnaire, the choices you make here have serious implications for the language and information you will use later.

A project targeting a younger audience for instance, requires more informal, succinct content to engage their limited attention span. B2B respondents on the other hand, are typically more highly engaged and willing to digest sophisticated language and concepts – therefore, you can push the length and formality of your questionnaire.

It’s similarly important to bear in mind how well informed your target audience is on the topic, and thus how much, or how little, information you need to provide in your survey to elicit a successful response.

Ultimately, there’s no limit to these potential variables, but by operating with this idea in mind, you’ll be able to ensure your survey design strikes the appropriate chord.


What are you trying to achieve?

Research in any field needs a clearly designated purpose to be successful – business is no different. Setting hypotheses before conducting a survey ensures everyone involved has a concrete idea of what the study is attempting to prove or disprove.

In addition, brevity is key – it’s certainly important to understand what you want to find out at the top level, but also to realise that one survey can’t give you all the answers. Focus on one at a time and the answers that project can give.

This, in turn, extends to the questions you ask – being frugal with the number of questions and their length is a skill, when perfected it allows you to zero in on the exact information required, avoiding wasted costs and superfluous data. Put simple, cut out the questions you’re not sure will give insight.

The final “objective-related” factor to consider is how you want the data to be split. Demographic, firmographic and even psychographic variables can be used to slice your results for easy access to your desired insight. Understanding this before the project goes in-field can save a lot of back and forth at a later date.


What to Consider When Producing the Survey

To coin a somewhat outdated phrase, now it’s time to put pen to paper. High-quality, effective surveys all share five key attributes:

1. A logical flow you can’t bounce back and forth from topic to topic expecting respondents to keep up. Questions should lead naturally on to relevant questions – confusion begets disinterest, and disinterest begets incorrect answers.

2. Neutral questions – Confirmation bias is very real, and it’s easy to allow your hypotheses to influence the wording of questions. This, however defeats the purpose of conducting the research. If the hypothesis is correct, it will come out without the help of leading questions.

3. Short and snappy – In a world of distraction, drop off greatly increases over time and quality will fall with numbers. Always stay below 20 minutes and remember: the younger the audience, the shorter their attention span.

4. Asking the right people – Consider your target audience. Aim for the most relevant respondents but don’t get too niche, if you’re trying to understand drivers to purchase an iPhone X, you could target iPhone X owners, but to widen the pool you could also consider respondents who own competitor devices. i.e. why did you decide against an iPhone?

5. A team effort – Make the most of the expertise you have available, between your team and your survey provider, you can ensure all bases are covered, avoiding any unwelcome surprises.


Basing your survey around these five qualities is a recipe for quick success, and once you’ve finished, be sure to take it yourself, before you put it out. At the end of the day, your sample are people and they’re donating their time for this – it’s up to you to make the experience as smooth as possible!


What is a Typical Checklist?

In addition to general theory and best practice of survey design, a checklist can be of great assistance when it comes to covering all bases with the questions in your survey – especially when you’re trying to stay tight.

The following is a great framework of themes to ensure your survey stays on track and achieves what it sets out to achieve:

  • Demographic / profiling – Who are you and what do you do?
  • Screening questions – Are you the right person for this survey?
  • Behaviour – How do you interact with my topic of interest?
  • Brand / product – what are the brands / services you like / use?
  • KPIs – what drives you in this area? What do you like? Dislike?
  • Guest question – used to answer specific hypothesis that doesn’t fit within the other brackets.

This will obviously vary greatly between surveys, but like the theoretical IEDA sales funnel, it provides a solid structure, around which you can build the individual questions and themes you require to make your project a success.