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Surveys are all around us. Companies rely heavily on customer satisfaction and one of the best ways to understand the consumer is through surveys. Unfortunately, not all surveys are created equal. Some are poorly written, which produce inaccurate results, or they are targeted to the wrong audience, again producing inaccurate data.

If a record company wanted to know the popularity of Rap CDs, it would be foolish to survey suburban grandmothers; however, surveying urban teenagers would produce better results. Here are a few tips to conducting successful and accurate surveys.

Surveys are all around us. Companies rely heavily on customer satisfaction and one of the best ways to understand the consumer is through surveys. Unfortunately, not all surveys are created equal. Some are poorly written, which produce inaccurate results, or they are targeted to the wrong audience, again producing inaccurate data.

If a record company wanted to know the popularity of Rap CDs, it would be foolish to survey suburban grandmothers; however, surveying urban teenagers would produce better results. Here are a few tips to conducting successful and accurate surveys.

Survey Research

Like any major project, research is necessary. It is imperative to plan every step of your survey, before ever typing a question. One of the most important places to start is know your audience. Like the Rap example, it would be unwise to start blindly distributing surveys.

Additionally, in defining your target market you also find a section of people that will be more willing to take the survey. Those who care about your product or survey will be more likely to participate and give truthful answers.

Survey Design

Surveys may often look simple in design; however, they can be a very tricky piece of work. The choice of questions, style and design can potentially make or break a survey.

Use clear and concise language when writing questions. Use questions that begin with who, what, where, when, why or how. Although not fool proof, these types of questions often avoid the language pit falls often associated with surveys.

Avoid loaded, leading, double barrel, ambiguous or compound questions. Also, avoid questions that use jargon or double negatives. Loaded or leading questions may hint to the respondent how you expect the question answered, whereas, ambiguous or compound questions can be confusing. All these question faux pas can be easy to commit without realizing it. Many of us have taken surveys were we didn't understand the nature of the question and were unsure how to answer.

The design of a survey should also be simple, yet comforting to the respondent. Do not make surveys too long or complicated. Often these deter people from completing the survey, or participating all together.

In a survey, images, pictures or graphics can be fun and useful. However, they can become obnoxious if used inappropriately or excessively. This is common on Internet surveys that have more creative control than traditional paper or interview methods.

Survey Conduction

There are many different ways to conduct surveys. Email and online surveys have become the most popular methods. Some of the more traditional ways are through voluntary paper handouts, mail, telephone and face-to-face interviews.

The way you conduct your survey depends on a number of factors including time, resources, money and target market.

Those with extremely bad experiences or extremely good experiences usually complete voluntary surveys left on service counters or restaurant dining tables. In order to get a decent response from snail mail participants you need to send out many more surveys than you expect to use. Usually only a small percentage of surveys are returned. A good way to improve response is to include a stamped, self-addressed envelope.

Email and online are becoming the most popular forums for conducting surveys. They are easier for people to respond to and almost painless for the surveyor. Often results can be directly downloaded from the survey's website to an analysis program.

Consider who will conduct your survey. Sometimes using a third party, neutral survey company may be in your best interest. People may feel more secure answering questions truthfully if they know the person listening has nothing to gain or lose from their responses.

Before administering your survey, always conduct a pre-test. A pre-test gives you an idea about what others think of the survey. They make sure all the questions and instructions are easy to understand; additionally, you can see how long it takes to complete and how others think and feel.

Survey Analysis

Your sample size can often make or break your survey results. If the sample is not large enough your results may be inaccurate. Your sample size depends on the type of survey you are conducting, who your target audience is and your desired margin of error. For a small survey, 100 people would be a good number.

Additionally, consider what results are important to you. If simple frequency tables and charts are enough, then conducting and analyzing the results yourself would suffice. However, if you would like to understand standard deviation, correlation and chi tests within your study, then hiring an independent analysis or survey research company may be in your best interest.

It doesn't matter what the survey is about or what the company does, it's best to approach every survey or poll with the utmost delicacy. Survey construction and design may appear easy, but no survey is ever simple. In order to achieve good results, you need good research, questions and strategy.

Resources

Lee, M. (2006). market research, business - Conducting Surveys and Focus Groups . Entrepreneur.com, Inc. Retrieved October 16, 2006, from
http://www.entrepreneur.com/marketing/marketresearch/article55680.html

Tercent Inc. (2005). Response Bias. Retrieved October 16, 2006, from
http://knowledge-base.supersurvey.com/response-bias.htm

Zimmerman, R. E., Steinmann, L., & Schueler, V. (n.d.). Designing Customer Surveys That Work. Retrieved October 16, 2006, from http://www.qualitydigest.com/oct96/surveys.html

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