Surveys are a great way to collect data and get direct feedback, but creating a survey that’s informative, helpful, and easy to complete can be tricky. We’ll discuss how you can design effectively by sticking to best practices. We’ll also cover some surprising reasons why your survey may be creating bad results.
Focus on one topic per survey
Survey forms are easily abused. They are a great instrument for gathering important data, but their value depends on how you use them.
One of the biggest errors I see is that companies ask too many questions at once. In short, surveys are rarely designed with enough focus. A survey form that covers too much ground risks losing impact as it loses respondents’ interest and patience.
There’s no such thing as a “five-minute” survey. The attention span of your respondents is going to be determined by the degree of relevance to them of the questions you’re asking. So, if you want to increase your completion rate and improve response quality, create multiple surveys, each focused on a single topic or question area.
Make your survey forms visually appealing
Making your forms visually appealing is about more than just aesthetics; it’s about creating a clear and intuitive user experience for your customers. When you put your form up on your website, you’re hoping that people will be able to quickly answer any questions they might have by filling it out. But if they find the form difficult or confusing, they’ll leave instead of filling it out.
That’s why we recommend putting attention into the visual design of your survey forms. The more visually appealing a form is, the more likely someone is going to take the time needed to fill it out completely.
Provide a clear and simple explanation of the purpose of your survey in the beginning
When you are conducting a survey, it’s essential to know what you are trying to find out. This is often easy to figure out; if you are asking people questions because they hold a job that involves being paid by the government (for example), you will almost certainly be able to answer your own question. If your survey is a bit more subtle than that, it can help to start by explaining what kind of survey you are doing and why.
If your survey is justified because you want to know whether people think their taxes should be cut or their benefits should be increased, the first question should specify this.
Limit the use of jargon or uncommon terms
When you’re designing a survey form it’s tempting to use jargon or uncommon terms. After all, everyone in your organization knows what “CRM” means, and if you ask about CRM people will know what to answer.
But using jargon is risky. Your customers may not know the abbreviation you are using. And if they don’t recognize it, they’ll have to guess at what it means. The only way to avoid this problem is to spell out every abbreviation at first use; but that means the form is bigger and uglier, and no one wants that.
The solution is simple: don’t use jargon in your survey forms. If you want to ask questions about your CRM system, ask about the customer relationship management system. Likewise with “CMS,” “QMS,” “RFP,” and every other acronym whose meaning is not universally known.
At first this advice seems strange, because we think of acronyms as being shorter than the words they stand for.
Allow people to skip questions they do not want to answer
Survey forms, whether online or on paper, have a privacy problem. People don’t like to answer questions about themselves, especially if the questions seem too personal. For example, if you are asking people how much money they make and you put “under $20,000” as one of the answer choices, many people who fit that choice will leave the question blank rather than select it. But when there’s no way to leave a question blank, the respondent has no choice but to answer honestly.
A reasonable solution is to allow respondents to skip questions they don’t want to answer by checking a box or clicking a link. This way they can choose what they reveal and what they conceal.
Test a few different versions of the form before you get too far down the line
There are many ways to make survey forms bad. We got many of them wrong when we first started doing surveys, from not making the submit button obvious enough (users did not realize they had submitted their answers) to not asking questions in the right order (users got annoyed when they were asked for information that we really should not have required). The biggest problem was not testing any of our early forms.
When you make something like a survey form, it is natural to want to fix it up as you go along: if you find a problem, you just add a question or tweak an existing one. But that can be dangerous. If the new question is difficult or intrusive, users will be less likely to fill out your form. And if you keep adding questions in response to problems with your data, eventually you’ll end up with a questionnaire that no one wants to fill out.
The right way to fix problems with your data is always by testing different versions.
Encourage people to fill out the survey by offering a reward (a small gift is enough) or citing how many others have already responded
Promising a reward for filling out a survey is not just a polite thing to do; it’s essential. If you don’t promise a reward, most people won’t fill out your survey.
If you can’t offer a reward for filling out surveys, the next best thing is to cite the response rate. The form should say something like: “We’ve already received responses from 200 people. Your name will automatically be entered in our drawing when you finish this survey.”
The reason people respond to a question when there is no reward offered is usually because they want to help you. But that’s not enough motivation to get them to go to any trouble– especially if your question isn’t easy to answer. It has to be worth their while to think about your problem for more than 30 seconds.
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