Successful Surveys: Tips & Tricks for Effective Questionnaire Design & Distribution

When it comes to research methods, surveys offer many advantages compared with other research strategies. Surveys are cost-effective and offer an excellent opportunity to gather information from large sample sizes, sometimes with hundreds or even thousands of participants. Larger sample-surveys create more accurate representation, meaning the results are more likely to represent the preferences, habits, or opinions of the larger population. 

Another benefit of surveys is that they can be used alone or in combination with other research methods. For example, after collecting a large number of survey responses, you might decide to invite a smaller number of survey participants to engage in 1-1 interviews or a small focus group to gather more in-depth data. 

An essential factor of the survey process is building an effective questionnaire that will help generate valuable information. It is also important to consider how you will distribute the survey to gather a diverse pool of study participants. Depending on the nature of your survey, we recommend trying to gather information across multiple demographics: age, gender identity, race and ethnicity, geographic location, and more. 

Below we have listed our top five simple tips & tricks to support you in the survey design and distribution process!

1. Less is more

To keep your participants engaged, we recommend keeping your surveys short and concise. Make sure each question in the survey is providing valuable information and if they don’t, remove them from the survey. When drafting your survey, keep in mind people’s busy lives and relatively short attention spans. Though every survey will be unique, we generally recommend that surveys take participants no more than 10-15 min to complete, 20 min at the very maximum. 

2. Always keep the respondent in mind when drafting questions

As researchers, we want to eliminate any potential barriers that might stand in the way of participants providing their valuable feedback. For example, choose to make questions multiple choice rather than open-ended in nature. If there is a list of potential responses, perhaps populate the options with these suggestions while leaving an open-ended option of ‘other’ when appropriate. Often it is the smallest design decisions that make the biggest difference when it comes to delivering successful surveys. 

3. Test your survey

We highly recommend testing your survey before mass-distributing it. First, take the survey yourself and make sure it’s looking good on the technical side. Second, we recommend sending the survey to a colleague or two to make sure all the questions make sense to them. You might make improvements based on their feedback. Third, we suggest sending the survey out to a “test group” of 10-20 participants as a preliminary sample. Through testing, you can catch errors and make necessary improvements early on in the study. 

4. Protect yourself from “robot responders”

Unfortunately, when distributing surveys you are vulnerable to robot responders, often known as bots for short. These are computer-generated artificial participants. Not only do bots mess up the results of your survey, they can also make the survey quite costly if you are paying a set price for each completed survey. To protect yourself from bots, we recommend using different links to invite people to take the survey. Once there is a bot, you can close the specific invitation link that is associated with the bot. Another strategy is to check the IP address as well as the geolocation. When you have multiple responses coming in from the same geolocation, it is likely a bot and you should close that survey link to new responses.

5. Don’t be afraid to try again

Sometimes we may design and distribute a survey to the best of our ability, yet unfortunately we don’t receive the response or quality of feedback we were seeking. In this case, we suggest reviewing your initial survey and comparing it with the suggestions offered above. Is there a way to shorten the length of the survey or modify the question phrasing or design? Is there a small pilot group that might be able to provide feedback before you try disseminating the survey again? How did you recruit participants? Is there a way you could be more creative in your solicitation efforts to attract a more diverse participant pool? Maybe most obvious, have you tried to complete the survey yourself? Oftentimes this role-reversal will showcase our blind spots and allow us to identify meaningful ways to improve our survey design. Whatever the case, just because you didn’t receive the results you hoped for the first time doesn’t mean you can’t make improvements and try again! 

We want to hear from you! 

We hope you enjoyed this content and got some ideas to help you with designing and distributing your research surveys. What do you think about the tips and tricks we offer? Do you have any questions? Feel free to reach out if you would like more information about survey design and/or learn about the other research services we offer. 

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