Key Findings from Online Survey Results: Peeling the Onion

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Posted May 11, 2012
Kathryn Korostoff

You’ve put a lot of time and effort into your online survey project. You’ve gathered a lot of data, and your analysis has uncovered a wealth of potentially useful information, perhaps enough to fill a book. Naturally you’d like to share this harvest with your clients, be they internal or external, but how do you pare it down to the key findings?

For a moment, visualize the humble onion. From the surface you can remove layer after layer of the onion, each time getting just a step closer to the core — the essence of the vegetable. Now look at your research results in the same way. At the very core of your findings, there are 4 or 5 key points that you’d like your users to take away from the project. If they remember nothing else, they should remember these.  Those are your key findings — the core of the onion. Are the outer layers interesting as well? Perhaps. But they are not as essential.

Getting to the Core

Our goal is to identify and present a small set of key findings from your online survey project in a way that will stick in our audience’s minds. Here are a couple ideas to help accomplish that.

  • Map the results to your objectives. If your original objective for the project was to gather feedback on new product features, then the results precisely related to those features are your key findings.  That’s pretty straightforward.  Similarly if you were testing to see what messages would resonate with your target market, the response to those messages would be your key findings.  Simple, right? But sometimes key findings require a bit more digging.
  • Map your results to a SWOT analysis. Here we choose categories — “Strengths”, “Weaknesses”, “Opportunities” and “Threats” — and assign our data points to those categories. This can be done in a spreadsheet or on paper. Now, once you have various data points from your online survey categorized, do you see any patterns? Does this data suggest a recurring theme related to strength of the company, brand or product?  An opportunity, threat, or weakness?  Once you’ve mapped your results into this SWOT framework, you may start to see some patterns. These, then, will help you find your key findings — the core of your research onion.

By the way, SWOT analysis has another key advantage, and that’s context. It’s pretty rare that a single statistic stands alone as a key finding. Knowing that 60% of your respondents prefer feature “X” is good, that’s a data point. Now combine that result with other data to build a key finding. Perhaps 80% of females prefer “X”, and that “X” is twice as popular as the next most popular feature. Combined, that builds a key finding, and you’re getting to the core.

Reaping the harvest of your efforts

People have a lot on their minds, and to some degree, a short attention span. Your job as a researcher is to prune your results down to a form that they can quickly understand, retain and later recall.

Think of it as though you are doing their shopping for them.  You browse the produce aisles of your results, choosing just the right items to highlight the data for their consumption.  But you don’t want to buy too much fresh produce—it will probably just go bad.

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