The art and science of surveys – Five steps to research that yields results

Susie Bell, 1 September 2015

There are a number of different reasons why an organisation might choose to conduct a survey. Whether it’s to help design the latest innovative product or to track sentiment across a certain target audience, business decisions and communications campaigns based on real information and insight, rather than guesses and assumption, are clearly a far safer bet.

Honner recently attended a research optimisation course hosted by Hendrik Mueller, user experience researcher at Google. We’ve summarised a few key take outs to consider before taking the plunge.

1. Objectives and sampling

It’s important to clearly define what the overall purpose of the survey is and what problems you are trying to tackle. You also need to be confident about reaching your desired population. If you have a large stakeholder road show coming up or are about to send out a client newsletter, these could be opportune times to capture their insights and attention.

2. Get the questions right 

This may sound like a no-brainer but there is a certain skill involved in asking questions the right way to ensure they actually meet your desired objectives. Mueller recommends following this simple formula when drafting the questions:

Goal (overarching research goal of the survey) + Construct (the essence of the thing you are interested in, that is also measurable) = Question(s) (survey questions that collect data about the construct(s)

There are also different question types to consider – open or closed-ended questions, if closed, rating or ranking, single or multiple choice? For rating questions, what’s the right scale?

3. Biases sway your results 

Unintentional biases can easily creep into survey questions and can substantially impact the reliability and validity of the data collected. Mueller identifies five common questionnaire biases and how to avoid them:

A. Satisficing = short-cut the answering process, mainly due to long and complicated questions – keep question and answer responses short and simple

B. Acquiescence = tendency to agree with any statement – avoid statements with agreement scales

C. Question order = tendency to be influenced by questions that appeared earlier in the survey – ask high level statements at the beginning

D. Social desirability = sticking to norms and expectations – move questions about sensitive or controversial topics to the end

E. Leading information = swaying a respondent to answer in a certain way – keep questions neutral and avoid biasing text

4. Avoid fielding faux pas

The rise of low cost online research tools such as Survey Monkey, Zoomerang and Google Forms have made it easier for firms to gather data across a broader reach of populations.  The likelihood is that your target audience is getting pummelled from every direction so there needs to be a compelling reason for them to complete the survey – will they be helping others, how can they make use of the survey results? What’s in it for them?

As Mueller eloquently puts it – try to contact them in the ‘least annoying’ way possible!

5. Analyse and apply

This is the fun part – turning the data into useful information. If you are thinking of conducting a survey, it’s worth involving your marketing or communications team from the outset so they advise on how the results can be packaged into meaningful content used across multiple channels.

At Honner, we understand conducting research projects is an investment of time and budget. We support clients every step of the way to ensure the whole process runs smoothly and delivers high quality results.

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