Here are a couple of reasons why online surveys have been around for so long and will continue to be a popular tool in market research:
Global Reach – one of the best aspects of an online survey is that anyone with access to a smartphone, tablet or computer can participate
Speed & Cost – online surveys usually will be the fastest form of survey research compared to phone, mail or in-person interviews which take longer and can be costly
Less Bias – since the survey is standardized across participants, there is no chance for questions to be posed with a different intonation or phrasing which can occur over the phone or in-person surveys
Visual / Auditory Capabilities – online surveys can easily integrate images, links, sound or video which can be used to educate participants on a certain topic or term or to get feedback on different materials, such as reactions to a brand’s advertisement
With of all of these great benefits, online surveys are a great tool. However, for a survey to be fully valuable, it has to be well designed.
“If the survey is poorly designed, no amount of math can help”
Cassie Kozyrkov, Chief Decision Scientist at Google
We take a systematic approach to designing questionnaires for our clients to ensure the research they receive is methodologically reliable and delivers maximum value. The first step we take is more research! In order to write a good questionnaire, the researcher should be informed about the topics and terminology of which they are writing. We use this research to learn more about trending topics in the industry and to generate new ideas or angles which haven’t been covered yet. We conduct a client-team brainstorm to cover what the survey should accomplish and areas of interest that should be included or emphasized. Depending on the purpose of the survey, the questionnaire might include more questions based on trends popular in the industry media or may focus on subtle differences in brand messaging and marketing materials. Once this step is accomplished, the team moves forward with writing the research instrument.
When writing a questionnaire, it helps to have a clear path for respondents to follow. Dividing questionnaires into sections such as current industry practices, challenges and opportunities, trending topics, and demographics allows participants to seamlessly move through the survey and leads to less confusion. Similar to a funnel, each section should start with broad concepts and ideas and then moving into the specifics.
There are a variety of survey questions that we use when developing a questionnaire. One of these is closed-ended questions, which give participants a certain number of options to pick from in single-select, multi-select or rank and sort formats. We also employ open-ended questions, which are a great tool to use in conjunction with closed-ended questions to gain a better understanding of participants’ thoughts or feelings around something specific. For example, we may give a participant a list of new technologies and ask them to pick which one has been most transformative to their industry in the past year; this is an example of a closed-ended question. Next, we may follow up that question by asking, “Why did you choose this technology?”; this is an open-ended question where the respondent can provide an a-text answer where they can type whatever they found to be the most important or influential factors in their selection.
When writing questions, there are some best practices to be aware of as a researcher:
- Be as clear and specific as possible – respondents may not know the exact term that you are referring to. Always use precise language to indicate what you are asking participants and define terms that may be considered industry jargon.
- Avoid leading questions – leading questions subtly prompt or indicate that the respondent should answer a certain way. Asking a leading question can result in false information or bad data.
- No double-barreled questions – you can’t ask a respondent two questions in one with only one answer option, for example, the question “Do you shop online because it is faster and more convenient?” is referring to two separate reasons for shopping online ‘speed’ and ‘convenience’. When you ask a double-barreled question, you won’t know which reason actually applies or is more important to respondents.
- Use scales – most researchers stay away from using “yes/no” questions. Respondents are inclined to say yes because they think that will qualify them into the survey. To better measure a respondent’s opinion or attitude, we often use 5 or 7-point scales, often referred to as Likert scales, with defined intervals (i.e. strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree, strongly disagree).
- Try to keep it short – the longer the question or the longer the survey, the greater the chances are that a respondent gets tired or distracted. This can lead to participants picking answers carelessly, choosing the same option in every question without reading or thinking it through (straight-lining), or even not finishing the survey.
While these only represent a couple of best practices in questionnaire development, sticking to these when writing a questionnaire will only lead to better data and insights from the research.
Online surveys are an important tool in research that can be utilized across industries and applications. Whether you’re looking for new insights to build into your brand strategy, testing different messages, or aiming to get more media coverage around trending topics, research shouldn’t be forgotten as a powerful and effective tool in the toolbox.