Preparing and conducting effective market research programs requires expertise in many different areas. But, without a doubt, the most critical key to research success is the survey instrument. While we can’t even begin to address the complexities of developing survey instruments in one newsletter article, we can offer the following tips for evaluating the questionnaire your research provider develops for your next study.
Start out easy: If possible within the context of the research objectives, pose general, easier questions first in order to set the stage and put the respondents at ease with the survey. Then, lead into the more specific and/or complex questions that require more thought and consideration.
Be crystal clear: All questions must be succinct and easy to understand, or there is a high risk of respondents interpreting them differently or even stopping the interview. Though you’ll likely have a research provider draft the questionnaire, they naturally won’t know your company and market circumstances as well as you and other internal stakeholders. Hence, your internal team should carefully review questions for clarity.
Keep it simple: Sometimes the information you’re seeking just isn’t easily accessible. For example, respondents may not be able to recall the data required to answer or may need the assistance of another source to answer. Put yourself in their shoes. If it’s unrealistic that they could respond without looking up the answer somewhere or asking another person, simplify or eliminate the question.
Don’t bounce around: Whenever possible, complete questions about one topic before moving on to the next in order to help respondents focus their train of thought.
Carefully consider sensitive questions: Even though you want to learn as much as possible, be very discerning about sensitive questions. Completely eliminate those that you feel most respondents aren’t able or willing to answer. (Some will provide less-than-truthful responses to such questions, which is more detrimental to your business intelligence than not getting answers at all.) For those sensitive questions you do decide to include, save them for the end whenever possible in order to minimize the risk of alienating respondents from the entire interview process.
Stay on track: In last month’s Research IT, we talked about the importance of the research firm and client collaborating upfront to thoroughly define the research objectives, data gaps, and the ways in which the research results will be used. This process provides a clear understanding of the content, depth, and data views that need to be delivered in the final analysis report. As you review the survey instrument, it’s critical to keep these objectives and actionable results top of mind. In addition to ensuring the questionnaire is designed to deliver the types of analyses required, this helps you and your research provider keep the survey to a manageable length by discerning between “must have” and “would be nice to have” information. Remember,?? if the survey has too many questions, respondents are likely to end the interview before it’s completed.