January Article

How Surveys Can Go Wrong

By SurveyBeta

Published 01/01/21


It’s easy to do a bad survey. It’s hard to do a great survey. Before spending valuable time and money on a survey there are a number of pitfalls that can be avoided by forethought and planning. In this article we’ll detail some of the more important ones. It’s tempting to just dive in and get interacting with your target market but more value will be extracted from the process if you follow a few simple steps.

Firstly, any survey should have clearly defined goals set before a single question is written or a group of people is targeted. Ask yourself what you are trying to find out. For example you may wish to ask “How can we sell more product X?” or “How can we make our employees happier?”. It helps if you can be more specific too. Try not to ask too many questions of the survey as you will only dilute its usefulness.

A common mistake made by many researchers is to force a requirement to answer all the questions upon their subjects. If people are given questions that they aren’t comfortable answering, don’t understand or simply don’t want to answer they may halt and neglect to even finish the survey. A survey with 3 missing answers is still better than an un-submitted survey. This is especially important with online surveys where it can be very tempting to tap the “require answer” button regularly when building one. Think very carefully about your questions and invoke the “required” options very sparingly and only when the response is integral to the value of your survey.

The careful wording of your questions is of utmost importance. Firstly, try not to use overly complicated language. Prizes will not be given for using long and technical words. The only end result will be more aborted survey responses and more answers that don’t add any value to the data. Try and write the questions with a child in mind even if the survey is not for them. Using the age old “KISS” principle is valuable here, “Keep It Simple Stupid”. Simplicity should be central to the language in the questions. When writing the questions be careful not to use leading language in any way. The question content should remain steadfastly neutral in leaning regarding the response. An example of this would be “Rate your state of mind while at work on an average day from 1 to 10”, rather than “How happy are you at work on a scale of 1 to 10”. Studies show that using leading language can skew the results toward the words used in the question.

Finally be sure to read, re-read and get a 2nd and 3rd opinion on the questions when you think you are done. There may be simple mistakes you’ve made in the writing that will taint the data upon completion of the survey. Also, you must keep in mind the target market for the survey. A survey written by banking professionals about mortgages will do doubt include language that first-time buyers won’t understand. Think outside the box and get a friend or partner to read your work. Try to be as broad as possible in your testing.


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