Most of you aren’t actually professional survey writers. You just want to ask customers how you’re doing, or gather research for your dissertation, and you’ve never even studied survey writing. But the pros are making all the same deadly errors, even those test-marketing for major corporations. Here are two quick ways to convert your wimpy, pointless survey draft into an instrument of laser-focused insight collection.

1) Ask some open-ended questions. You collect a bunch of data. So? What you really need to know: who is saying that, and why? If nothing else, leave a nice essay box at the end and ask, “Is there anything else we should know?” Yes, you need some quantitative measures and some demographics (those are omissions that amateurs make), but usually the best information—everything you didn’t even think to ask about—comes all wrapped up in a free response box.

2) Leave room for Not Applicable and Don’t Know answers, especially if you require an answer to every question. If you ask anything that might not apply to all respondents, and then require them to answer, they have only two choices. They can drop off, decreasing your completion rate, or they can make something up (by guessing or lying), thereby invalidating your data.

Those two improvements alone will increase your odds of getting valid, meaningful data to improve your directions and decisions.

What’s your best tip for effective survey writing, or your pet peeve about the ones you’ve taken?


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2010