Sales and Marketing Software

Sound Research Results Demands Good Survey Preparation

By Bob Johnson, VP & Principal Analyst

As IDG Connect conducts thousands of surveys each year, we often receive survey drafts from our clients. Sometimes those surveys lack the organization that you need to maximize the data quality on the back end. As you design surveys, here are some key areas to strive for in design and during programming to help get meaningful, accurate, actionable data.

  1. Make sure that any primary questions that have other dependent questions that rely on the primary answer are as close to each other as possible. Similarly in lists, have related items (including options that may sound similar in meaning) close to each other. This is especially important for questions that use radio buttons.
  2. Present short and simple questions in a language that can be easily understood and can be perceived or understood within a common context in terms of the issue or topic. Split a question into several if it becomes too long. And, highlight the most important term/phrase/portion etc. of the question to help the respondent focus on its most critical element.
  3. Look at your survey to identify possible contradictions. For example, if a respondent says they do not currently have private cloud they should not then be allowed to answer a subsequent question that asks what the major challenges are in managing their private cloud environment. Incorporate warnings and other alerts for cases where these contradictions might occur, so you either terminate the individual for the contradiction or warn them that the answer does not align with what they previously stated in the earlier question.
  4. Make your survey smart. When you ask a question where the respondent chooses only some of the choices, if you follow-up with a question that asks for deeper insight, only list those choices made in the previous question. This dynamic list creation is critical to keeping the survey flow relevant and avoids the respondent having to pass over areas they had not selected previously. Let’s take an example. You ask them to select the top three technology initiative areas that cause challenges. They then select mobile, cloud, and converged infrastructure. For the subsequent follow-up question that wants to capture the specific challenges, only list those three they selected before, not the full list from the previous question.
  5. Incorporate a good number of prompts and warnings within your survey to keep respondents from straying and maintain their focus. As for warnings, have termination rules that come into force after a certain number of warnings. You can communicate (along with the first warning message) that termination is possible in cases of repeat occurrences.
  6. Keep questions pertaining to priority/crucial information early and then pose other questions, keeping them grouped and organized in a way to provide a logical flow. For example don’t jump between macro and micro issues from question to question, and avoid mixing strategically and tactically oriented questions together. It will make the respondent feel that the survey is disjointed and frustrating. Think of it as the respondent telling you a story. Start at the high level and then let them speak to you in more and more detail in any given areas focused on by the survey questions.
  7. Randomize lists for each survey respondent unless they need to be presented sequentially for context such as time period, organization size or buying stages. All respondents are more inclined to select choices that fall at the top of a list, and by having this list be presented in a random manner you avoid top item selection tendencies that can skew your results.

If you want good survey results with meaningful data, do this up-front work in survey design and programming. You will keep respondents more engaged and reduce the likelihood for question misinterpretation which opens you up to gathering data that less accurately reflects the view and insight of your target audience.


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Bob Johnson

VP & Principal Analyst, IDG Connect

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