Sarah Lichtner

There are several different ways to gather information. Last month, Vicky provided tips for conducting successful interviews. But another option we often employ at Nexight is conducting surveys. While getting people on the phone or talking to them in person allows the opportunity for follow-up questions and potentially more candid responses, there are times when surveys can be a more effective and efficient. Here are a few reasons you may want to consider distributing a survey:

  • The desired data set is large. For example, you may want to engage all members of an organization or you need a large data set for your data to be statistically meaningful.
  • Resources are constrained. While valuable, interviews take up time you and the people you want information from may not have available.
  • You don’t need to talk to a specific person. If you need a cross-section of participants and don’t necessarily have specific people you need to speak with, you may be satisfied with sending a survey to a large group of people and can work with the data even if only 50% of these people reply.

If at least one of these factors applies to your unique data collection needs, it’s likely that a survey would be an effective way for you to collect the data you need. But where do you start? Below are some questions you should ask yourself when developing your survey. While the order of these steps may vary based on resource availability, audience, or the specific project, it is important to ensure that all of these aspects are considered during the survey development process.

  1. Who do I need to survey? Determine who you need to survey. How many people do you want to send the survey to, and ultimately how many people do you need to respond to have a strong sample size? Are these people concentrated in the United States or are they located throughout the world? Do you have access to them? If not, how can you gain access to these people?
  2. What incentive is there for people to complete the survey? Assess how you will get people to complete the survey. Are the participants required to respond, or are they responding voluntarily? If their participation is voluntary, can you offer some form of incentive? The answers to these questions will significantly impact your response rate.
  3. What are the five key points of data I need to collect? Identify the five key points of data you want to gather from these participants and the reasons this data is important to you. This is also the step when you assess whether you need qualitative or quantitative data, or a mix of both.
  4. What is the project scope? One of the most critical factors to consider when developing a survey is to determine the resources available to analyze the data. Your available resources should determine the length of your survey, format of the questions, and the number of people surveyed.
  5. What are the best question formats for this survey? There’s a wide variety of ways you can ask a question, including multiple choice, select all, Likert scales, and open responses. It’s important to think about the kinds of responses you want as well as the time you have available to sift through these responses. Are you more interested in quotes and more free-form responses or do you need solid numbers or tallies of responses?
  6. How will the survey be distributed? Do you want to send the survey through email, through snail mail, or do you want to provide a link to an online survey? If you want to develop an online survey, will free services meet your needs or do you need the capabilities of a paid subscription? The survey platform will depend on your audience and your available resources. Many online formats allow you to use branching and logic so participants can skip over questions that are not applicable; however, some audiences are more comfortable with online surveys than others.

Once you’ve answered all of these questions, it’s time to create, test, and distribute your survey. Happy data gathering! And of course, after you have your data, it’s critical to make sure to communicate this data effectively to your target audience. It would be a shame to let good data go to waste.