Do’s and don’ts of surveys

Surveys have become a very common way to get feedback, input, and information. If you stay in a hotel, fly on a plane, go to a training program, or visit a museum, you’re likely to get a survey asking you how the experience was for you and how it could be improved.

Survey Monkey, Survey Gizmo, and Checkbox Survey make it easy for organizations to quickly write a survey and get it out to their visitors, customers, or constituents. Before rushing a survey out the door, though, it’s worth taking the time to make sure your survey is well designed. Here are a few tips to consider.

Tip #1: Ask one question at a time
Did the program meet your expectations and provide you with information that you will use in the future?
Yes            No          Somewhat

The respondent may feel that yes, the program did meet their expectations, but no, it did not provide them with information they will use in the future.  So however they answer the question, you won’t know their true intent.

Tip #2: Use a balanced response scale
How likely or unlikely are you to recommend this program to your friend?
Extremely likely         Somewhat likely         Somewhat unlikely         Not sure

This question tips the balance toward a positive response by offering two “likely” options but only one “unlikely” option, and a neutral option. Adding “extremely unlikely” as a fifth choice would make this a balanced response scale.

Tip #3: Use “check all that apply” questions sparingly.
What factors are important to you when visiting a museum? (check all the apply):
☐ Interesting exhibits
☐ Tour guides available
☐ Accessible by public transportation
☐ Frequently changing exhibits
☐ Reasonable price
☐ Place to eat lunch
☐ Good signage
☐ Parking available

In this type of question, the respondent might show a bias toward checking off the responses that are higher on the list. Also, even if they view all of these factors as important, some people won’t want to check off everyone single one. If the question is asked as a series of yes and no’s, they are more likely to consider each response equally.

Are the following factors important to you when visiting a museum?
☐ Yes     ☐ No    Interesting exhibits
☐ Yes     ☐ No    Tour guides available
☐ Yes     ☐ No    Accessible by public transportation
☐ Yes     ☐ No    Frequently changing exhibits
☐ Yes     ☐ No    Reasonable price
☐ Yes     ☐ No    Place to eat lunch
☐ Yes     ☐ No    Good signage
☐ Yes     ☐ No    Parking available

There are many other tips to consider as well. I’ll be teaching the workshop The Uses of Surveys in Program Evaluation this fall at MCLA in North Adams, MA (Sept. 25, 9:30 – 12:00). It will be a chance to learn more about effective survey design. Stay tuned for details!

2 thoughts on “Do’s and don’ts of surveys

  1. Hi Mary
    I followed your facebook post to your website and this blog post. I need to write a survey for a teacher professional learning community I’m running and these tips are great! Do you recommend google polls for small scale surveys, mostly geared at getting feedback?

    1. Hi Janice!
      I haven’t used Google Polls but I know that a lot of schools like sharing information on Google. I have shared discussions and comments when working with schools and higher ed institutions and that has worked well. I do my surveys on Survey Monkey, but if you’re looking for mostly qualitative feedback, something like Google should work fine.
      Thanks for checking out my website!

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