Staging surveys for success: Planning and preparation best practices

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Posted Nov 02, 2022
Eliza Jacobs

In last week’s webinar session, “Don’t let survey staging scare you: How to avoid your research nightmares,” Eliza Jacobs discussed a process she cultivated over the course of her career to help set her research projects up for success. 

The stakes for research are quite high. No one wants to bring bad data to the decision-making process. And while technology, including research platforms, are becoming more sophisticated and automated, it remains important for research professionals to continue to understand the fundamental concepts and methodologies of research. This knowledge will help research professionals maximize the impact of each project, ensuring that insights teams continue to play an important role in the business.

Survey research includes multiple steps happening simultaneously—but the two key phases are planning and preparation, and execution. Planning and preparation include project planning, establishing timelines, establishing objectives, developing a sampling plan and designing the questionnaire.  Execution can include survey programming, survey fielding, data analysis, reporting, and making recommendations. For the purpose of this webinar, we’ll focus primarily on the planning and preparation phase.

Plan every survey for success

Good planning is the key to successful execution. Being deliberate and intentional when thinking about a research project helps lead to good outcomes. 


To start a project, researchers must ask themselves two key questions, which Eliza refers to as the project’s North Stars. The answers to these questions serve as her guiding principles and help establish a research framework. 

What are the questions you’re trying to answer? 

What are the problems you’re trying to solve

In order to properly manage the scope of your project and establish the essential data points, it’s crucial that you keep these goals top of mind as you progress. 


Another aspect of research projects that help with planning is to pad your timeline. Unforeseen setbacks have a way of manifesting themselves when you least expect it, so adding an extra day or two as a buffer to a timeline can ease the burden and stress on a researcher. 

Prepare your questionnaire with best-practices in mind

Once you’ve got your research plan in place, it’s time to move on to preparing the questionnaire for your survey.

Questionnaire design is a crucial moment in the research process. And this step includes multiple, simultaneous components where it may feel as though there are a lot of logs on the fire. 


  • Ensuring questions reflect industry trends
  • Establishing a flowing, logical order in your survey questions
  • Testing any concepts, such as products or ads, in a context that mimics what consumers experience 
  • Employing best practices like avoiding jargon and leading questions
  • Writing questions that minimize social desirability bias, respondent fatigue, and survey abandonment


First, make your life easier by repurposing and reusing questions. Even if topics differ greatly, once you find questions that work well, you can adapt them to other projects. This is especially important if you plan to make any comparisons. And if your study is a tracking study, then you must ask questions in the same way in each survey in order to compare the data.

Finally, adapt a mobile-first mindset. Assume that the first touchpoint a respondent may have with your survey is via a mobile device. Given this, survey questions must be optimized for a mobile experience. That means respondents may be on a smaller screen, which makes some question types more burdensome to respondents—like matrix questions. That doesn’t mean these question types cannot be used, but try to not include too many. And lastly, always remember to preview and test our survey on various devices in order to understand how respondents will experience your survey.

Webinar replay

Let’s summarize the key takeaways from this webinar:

  • Technology makes the research process easier, but we still need to understand the concepts
  • Take the time to plan your projects—especially timelines
  • What is your North Star? Start with key questions/problems to focus your project
  • Be efficient —reuse and adapt survey questions to avoid starting from scratch
  • Adopt a mobile-first mentality to questionnaire design—many respondents will take a survey on a mobile device
  • Be flexible—try new questions and approaches, but accept that sometimes questions just don’t work the way you intended
  • Refine this process in a way that works for you

View the full on-demand recording now.

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