Online Technology for Research & Insight

Research Blog 15 July 2019

The 3 Golden Rules for Creating Perfect Online Surveys

You can craft better online surveys by focussing on structural simplicity, the language you use, and having empathy with your audience. Treat it like sitting in the room with them and reading out the questions, explaining terms if necessary. Just follow these golden rules:

1. Keep it Simple: This might seem obvious but keeping your survey as "elegantly simple" as possible will go a long way to increase the accuracy of the data and maximise the response rate. Apart from limiting the survey to only the necessary questions, you should also think very hard about the wording of your questions. Get other people to check your survey script to look out for ambiguity in wording, over-complicated questions, multiple questions rolled into one, the use of jargon, and so on.

Some examples of poorly worded questions

"What is your favourite ice cream flavour and topping?"Fault: this asks too many things at once. Remedy: Split it into two separate questions that allow them to focus on each part: "What is your favourite ice cream flavour?" and "What is your favourite ice cream topping".

"What is the reason you would give for your preferred ice cream flavour?"Fault: this is far too wordy and convoluted. Remedy: Shorten it down to its essence, e.g. "Why do you prefer this flavour?".

"Fantastico uses the new gelato slow-churn technique. Do you like this?"Fault: Uses trade jargon that the majority of respondents may not understand. Remedy: Avoid these terms, or explain them. For example, "Gelato slow-churn allows for bigger pieces of fruit in an ice cream. Would you like this?"

2. Know your Audience: Think about the audience that you are sending your survey out to. Are they likely to understand the language you are using including technical terms, industry lingo and abbreviations? If the answer is no then avoid using such language. Just because you know your subject matter inside out, doesn’t mean your respondents necessarily will – so beware the curse of knowledge. If in doubt, it is always best to keep the language as simple as possible, have explanatory notes for more complex issues, and explain what abbreviations stand for.

3. Talk Human: Make the subject matter relatable to your respondents by using the sort of language they understand and use themselves. Use a tone which is in keeping with the survey subject – for example, if it is quite a light-hearted topic then the tone can be a bit more casual than a survey about medical issues. Whatever the topic, make sure you engage with your respondents and make it interesting for them.

To sum it all up, we can never repeat this mantra enough: if you treat your survey less like a bunch of questions and more like a conversation between you and the respondent, you will get a better response. Think: simple, human and unambiguous!