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More often than not, the surveys I receive commit the same two errors: one blocks participants and invalidates your data, and the other makes responses less helpful than they could be. Here’s what you want to avoid:

1) Requiring answers to questions that might not apply to all respondents. For example, because I’ve never attended your event, asking me to rate the last event I attended requires me to make something up, or drop out of the survey. I can either lie–ruining your results–or not participate at all. And I’m precisely the type of person you’re trying to understand and market to! Therefore, not wanting to ruin your results, I quit.

It’s a best practice to make as few questions required as possible, and to include a Not Applicable answer to most questions.

2) Leaving no open-ended response boxes. This is where people tell you what they’re really thinking! This is where you learn WHY.  Isn’t that your real question?

An occasional “Why or why not?” works wonders, particularly if you don’t make it required and the participant isn’t trapped there. I like to end each survey with a simple box saying something like this: “Is there anything else you would like us to know?” You’ll be amazed at the great information, ideas, and suggestions people give. You’ll even get compliments and testimonials.

And remember that professional market research is a paying field, at approximately a dollar per question, so if you’re asking for free advice, keep it short and sweet. You can even offer a gift card drawing to thank your respondents for their time and collect contact information.

There’s far more to effective survey writing than this, from wording your questions and possible responses effectively, to asking for contact information in a graceful way. But these two tips will get you started.

What are your pet peeves about surveys you’ve taken, or best tips for writing surveys?

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Text © Gwyn Nichols 2012. All rights reserved. WritersResort.com

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