The Art of Asking Survey Questions

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As marketers, we use surveys with focus groups to learn more about a potential campaign, with our customer database to find out how to make product improvements, and with our social media fanbase to test what types of messages resonate with our target audience. But what happens when you spend time administering a survey only to pore over the data to find out that it doesn't tell us anything new? Well it could be that you drafted your survey questions all wrong! Knowing how to ask survey questions to illicit the type of insights and information you're seeking will put your on your way to getting the reliable responses you need to reach your business goals.

Lost in Translation

Speak the same language as your potential respondents, both literally and figuratively! Keep the survey language simple and direct, so you don't confuse readers. Stay awy from using industry jargon or marketing language that a respondent might not understand. The last thing you want is for someone to misinterpret the question and provide a wrong answer, or get frustrated because they don't understand the question.

One at a time

As tempted as you might be to ask about multiple issues in your questions, always ask about just one idea at a time. For example, asking "how valuable and organized was the e-book?" is mixing two issues together: value and organization. Maybe the respondent really enjoyed the content in the e-book and they were able to find value in it right away, but thought it was organized poorly and could have been segmented into a few more chapters. If you ask them that question, the response may be for either issue and you won't really have a sense of what needs to be changed for your next e-book launch. Instead, ask two questions: "how valuable was the e-book?" and "rate the organization of the e-book" to get better quality data.

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This is not a test

I repeat, this is not a test! So don't have survey questions that make your respondents feel like they are taking a final exam. Questions shouldn't be too hard for people to answer; don't make them think too much. A question like, "rank these 10 items in order of preference" is a bit much. Stick to a shorter list to rank, around 5 or 6 is manageable for most people.

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Be sensitive

There are some questions that your respondents might not feel comfortable answering, so give them an option like "prefer not to answer". This will provide clearer data to you, instead of a "no comment", or "other" option. If you do have an "other" option, always provide a space for the respondent to write in their explanation. When you get the data, you'll be better equipped to understand the responses, instead of trying to decipher what they meant by "other".

Get the balance right

If you're asking respondents to rate a service or product, make sure you give them adequate choices and balance the scale. Options like "Awesome - Great - Good - Fair" really doesn't give people a chance to share if they feel the service was "Poor". Or they might misinterpret "Fair" as the bottom of the scale when you really mean, "just okay". Survey experts say that the "strongly disagree–disagree–neutral–agree–strongly agree" scale is pretty standard and dependable for seeking the kind of valuable data that you want from your survey.

Check your next survey against this list of helpful tips to make sure you know the right survey questions to ask, and how to ask them!

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