How To Write A Survey: Your Quick Start Guide

how to write a surveyConducting a survey can be a very useful thing, particularly if you are looking for customer or client feedback. For anyone in marketing, market research is one thing that you absolutely can not skip when you are looking at how to best make a product or service enticing to its target market. A market research survey will help you identify what your product’s strengths and weaknesses are, as perceived by the very market you are hoping to reach–your customers and potential customers.

If you have not drafted one before, you may wonder how to write a survey. It’s more than just questions on a form! There is a lot of dos and don’ts that you must first understand before you sit down and put pencil to paper (or fingers to keyboard!) We know you are up to the task though, and we’ve got you covered; we’ll take you through the nitty gritty of how to write a survey, including how to best frame your questions for unbiased and effective market research, and what pitfalls you should avoid while you’re getting down to business. By the end you will know just how to write a survey that will provide you with valuable information!

Primary and Secondary Sources of Information

To understand what makes a good survey, you should first understand what role your survey will fulfill. When you are conducting research of any kind, whether it’s for a marketing project, or as a part of a social or psychological experiment that is in the data-gathering stage, your survey is the means to acquiring what will eventually become a very valuable primary source of information.

Let’s look for a moment at the difference between a primary and a secondary source of information. A secondary source of information is the synthesization of information that is gathered from primary sources. Many people, when they are doing research to write a paper or report, for instance, will use a secondary source of information. Say for example, that you were to write an essay on the symbolization in Frost’s poem: The Road Not Taken. Any scholarly article that discusses the poem is a secondary source of information. The poem itself is a primary source.

Likewise, in market research, you have primary and secondary sources of information. A secondary source is sometimes called a white paper, and is a collected analysis of data pulled from primary sources, usually market research.  A lot of mistakes that first-time researchers make is to rely solely on those secondary sources. Not you! You’ll be equipped to make your own primary sources of information once you know just how to write a survey.

What Makes A Good Survey?

A survey is only as good as its worst question. The solution to a good survey that’s being dragged down by a weak question? Know what makes a great survey question, and you’ll have what you need to craft an effective and valuable survey.

There are essentially two types of survey questions; structured or fixed response questions, which you will likely use most often, and unstructured or open ended response questions.

Each has its benefits, and the largest benefit you will find with structured, fixed-response questions are that they provide hard, consistent data to crunch. The benefit to unstructured questions that invite open ended responses is that they offer deeper insight into what the consumer base is thinking.

Fixed response questions come in a few different types of “flavors”. There are multiple choice questions, which offer a fixed number of responses to choose from. There are also rated questions, which allow the respondent or respondents to rate a variable based on a set scale. There are also ranking questions, which allow a respondent to set a hierarchy of importance to a variable, or assign those variables to tiers.

Navigating the “dos” and “don’ts” of how to write a survey will be an absolute breeze if you’ve got the business writing skills that will help you adopt a professional, objective tone as you write.

The “Must Dos”

Let’s start with what you absolutely must include to make a good survey question great. We’ll get to the “don’ts” in a second, but first let’s cover the good stuff. Remember, as you’re learning how to write a survey, that each question needs to be strongly crafted–a survey is only as good as it’s weakest question!

A good and effective survey question:

  • Is simply put. This doesn’t mean that questions need to be monosyllabic. Instead, it can sometimes be just the opposite. A question like, “How likely are you to enroll in the XYZ service our company provides?” looks simple enough but it isn’t. It’s unclear. Provide background if you must, without advertising the service itself. Simply explain what it is.
  • Has a full range or balanced scale of responses. When in doubt, add more responses. Some researchers mistake incomplete answer lists for “short and sweet”, providing only a limited range of responses. For instance, asking a question meant to gauge satisfaction and only providing the responses “Very Satisfied, Somewhat Satisfied, Not Satisfied At All”. People rarely feel so unambiguous about a product or service that one of these three answers will appear sufficient. Don’t be afraid to add a more balanced scale!
  • Let respondents “opt out”. Never forget that there are questions that some people are simply not comfortable answering or do not have a response for. Such questions include queries that probe into race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Not all questions are left unanswered because they are sensitive, however. Some respondents simply do not have an answer for a question. Allowing a respondent to opt out with a “None of The Above” or “Prefer Not to Answer at This Time” will reduce your risk of false answers (some people would rather just answer untruthfully that leave an answer blank) and resentful respondents.

The “Never Dos”

With some idea of how to write a survey question that is effective and will get you valuable data when included on a survey, let’s look now at some things you must not include.

Some things to avoid using when writing a survey are:

  • Double barreled questions. This refers to any item on a survey that attempts to answer two questions at once, and will almost always return a faulty or even useless answer. For instance, if you ask a question like: “Do you like eating ice cream and cake?” You are asking two questions. You should either split this into 2 questions, or provide responses that allow the answerer to choose one, both, or neither.
  • Biased language. Asking “Should the government force people to register their cars?” Is an example of a biased question. Avoid using leading language or particularly biased adjectives, like “amazing”, “horrible”, “fantastic”, etc. Instead, go for balanced, factual speech that allows

Now you are better equipped to go forth and get the market research that you need with an effective, well-written, and balanced survey. Before you get started, why not take a look at what some other researchers have found with some valuable information about Gen Y consumers in the internet age? Social media is a very valuable tool that can help you gather more information about a potential customer base, and some marketers use Facebook polls and Twitter events to craft micro-surveys and gather information. An introductory course on those social platforms can help you get started!