Level Up Your DIY Survey Game: Part One "The Big Why"

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Posted Sep 16, 2021
Trevor Brown

Survey writing is like swimming: almost anyone can learn to do it themselves, but to be a champion, there’s a lot of work that goes into refining your technique. Nobody’s expecting you to be an Olympic survey writer, but this series is designed to help you build stronger surveys—coaching you how to get the insights you need while building an enjoyable experience for your respondents.

First, Let’s Get Inspired

Creating a survey yourself can be inspiring. And it should be! Powerful insights could very well be at the tip of your fingers. With the right idea and the right approach, you stand to gain an abundance of understanding. So take this as your moment of zen. 

Maybe you have a gut feeling that merits further investigation—or maybe you see a trend in a completely different industry that might be worth looking into—either way, that spark of curiosity is the first thing we want to harness.  That’s because your curiosity is what really powers “the big why” behind your survey. 

Ask Yourself “Why?”

Now that you’re inspired, ask yourself why you’re creating the survey. How can you utilize the different insights you gain? What are your must-have questions, and which ones are just nice to have? Here, you’re really trying to think all the way through to the analysis portion of your survey  to find “the big why.” 

Reality check time! Just because we’re calling it “the big why” doesn’t mean it needs to point to some grand theory of everything. You don’t have to ask “why are we all here” when you can get better data by focusing on “why did you order this?” Just think about what business action you are seeking to inform, and get rid of the rest. That’s “the big why.”

Once you’ve got it, take some more time to prioritize those must-have questions—be sure to include every one of them in your survey. If there are some nice-to-have questions as well, no biggie, feel free to include them as long as it doesn’t bog down your survey. Try not to put too much into one survey—surveys should be no more than 7-8 minutes long. Definitely avoid building surveys that take over 15-20 minutes.

Sculpt Your Survey With Purpose

As you sculpt your survey, let “the big why” guide you, always considering the analysis you’ll be doing at the end. Like a sculptor, you want to create a sturdy survey structure that will hold up to that analysis—one that delivers strong results that point towards “the big why.” But how will your individual questions meet your analysis needs? And how can a well-designed respondent experience help you get the data you need to drive action? 

It’s all about being purposeful in your process. The form your survey takes should feel smooth to your respondents. Allow it to flow gracefully, taking simple and understandable turns as the respondents explore it. Does it make sense to use this question type? Is the piping well-suited for the analysis you need? Think through your process carefully and you’ll avoid working yourself (and your respondents) into a corner.

Go about building your survey like it’s a conversation. Keep it casual at first. Start with light, easy-to-answer questions and let the harder-hitting questions organically find their way into the discussion. You wouldn’t open up a conversation by asking, “Hey, how are your ulcers?” Sure, you may need that information, but you might want to work your way up to that question. You also might not want to drop the mic after a bunch of serious questions. Conversations feel exhausting or even awkward when they end in heavy questions—surveys do too. Clear the air by sprinkling in more straightforward questions after tougher ones. Give respondents a break. 

Be “Testably Different”

Be empathetic, but stay focused on your results. Communicate in a way that will be understandable to every possible respondent, regardless of their background or field of expertise. You don’t have the ability to read your respondents’ body language, so you’ll need to anticipate where a further explanation is necessary. To help you achieve the best results, let’s talk about how to be “testably different.”

When building a survey or creating stimuli, recognize that your priorities are different than many of your respondents’. If you work for a laundry detergent company, your world revolves around even the smallest details of this product. Your respondents, however, just want to run the cycle and move on with their life. If you aren’t careful, you could find yourself asking “different” questions that your respondents will think are the same. Think about painting a room and asking the question, “is it ivory or is it pearl?” Maybe you can see the difference, but chances are, your respondents just see white. It’s essential to take a step back and evaluate whether your response types are “testably different.” Something that might help here is having a proofreader. Trust me. Proofreaders save lives. 

Let’s Recap, Shall We?

There’s a lot to consider when starting to build your DIY survey. To help set yourself up for success, the initial steps you take are going to be crucial. Try to keep these eight things in mind:

  1. You’re amazing. You got this. Get inspired!
  2. Look ahead to the analysis phase to find “the big why” behind your survey. Focus on it and use it to guide your decisions moving forward.
  3. Try to make your survey as brief—and as potent—as possible. 
  4. Treat your survey like a conversation: Start casual, then move on to heavier topics, but sprinkle lighter ones throughout to avoid exhausting respondents. 
  5. Empathize with your respondents. 
  6. Avoid adding lingo that’s only familiar to you. 
  7. Ensure that your question types are “testably different,” not just different to you. 
  8. Get a proofreader to check your work. 

That’s it for now, but stay tuned! For our next blog, we’ll get down to brass tacks and discuss optimizing individual questions. Speaking of questions, do you have any? We can help create a survey for you or walk you through the process. If you need any help, just reach out!

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