Getting the results you need from surveys

Brian McNamara HeadshotPosted by Brian McNamara

bsmlA survey is only as good as the results you get from it. That’s why it’s important to carefully consider and plan for survey forms that will yield accurate, valid data that can be analyzed to yield the answers that you and your stakeholders are seeking.

This article looks at a few general tips on identifying the information you want to capture, writing survey questions, structuring surveys and planning ahead for how you or your stakeholders will want to analyze data.

1. Provide a brief introduction to the survey that lets the respondents know the:

  • Purpose of the survey – why do you want the respondents’ opinions?
  • Length of the survey (Number of questions? How long will it take to complete?)
  • Closing date for survey responses

Tip: It also makes sense to include this information in the initial invitation to help set expectations and boost response rates.

2. Keep the survey short and sweet (only ask the minimum number of questions required)… the longer the survey, the more likely that respondents will  abandon it or refuse to participate.

3. Avoid ambiguity in how your questions are worded; be as direct as possible.

4. Within the survey form, let respondents know how much longer they have to finish the assessment – built-in progress bars (available in most of  Questionmark’s standard question-by-question assessment templates) can help here. For example:


5. Consider the flow of the assessment. Ideally your survey should group similar types of questions together. For example, in a course evaluation survey,  you might ask two or three questions about the course content, then questions about the venue, and then questions about an instructor.

6. Avoid the potential for confusing respondents by keeping your Likert scale questions consistent where possible. For example, don’t follow a question  that uses a positive-to-negative scale (e.g. “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree”) with a question that uses a negative-to-positive scale (e.g. “Very Dissatisfied” to “Very Satisfied”).

7. Make it easy for respondents to answer surveys via a wide variety of devices and browsers. Check out previous blog articles on this topic: Tips for making your assessments BYOD-friendly.

8. Consider what respondent demographics and other information you may wish use for filtering and/or comparing your survey results. For example, in a typical course evaluation, you might be looking to capture information such as:

  • Course name
  • Instructor name
  • Location/Venue
  • Date (or range of dates)

Questionmark provides different options for capturing demographic data into “special fields” that can be used in in Questionmark’s built-in survey and course evaluation reports for filtering and comparison. Likewise, this demographic data can be exported along with the survey results to ASCII or Microsoft Excel format if you prefer to use third-party tools for additional analysis.

9. Consider how you wish to capture demographic information.

  • Easiest way: you can ask a question! In Questionmark assessments, you can designate certain questions as “demographic questions” so their results are saved to “special fields” used in the reporting process.Typically you would use a multiple choice and/or drop-down question type to ask for such information. For example, if you were surveying a group of respondents who attended a “Photoshop Basics” course in three different cities, you might ask the following to capture this data:bsml 2
  •  Embedding demographic data within assessment URLs: In some cases, you might already have certain types of demographic information on hand. For example, if you are emailing an invitation only to London respondents of the “Photoshop Basics” course, then you can embed this information as a parameter of a Questionmark assessment URL – it will be one less question you’ll need to ask your respondents, and a sure-fire way you’ll capture accurate location demographics with the survey results!

If you are looking for an easy way to rapidly create surveys and course evaluations, check out Questionmark Live – click here. And for more information about Questionmark’s survey and course  evaluation reporting tools, click here.

3 Responses to “Getting the results you need from surveys”

  1. Eric Gordon says:

    Thanks for the basic tips – helpful. Our struggle is in running useful reports on surveys. Perhaps there are some question types that simply do not lend themself to gaining aggregate data but we find that when we use knowledge matrix questions (and some others), we have trouble pulling any type of report that does not need a fiar amount of massaging afterwards in order to submit to leadership for review. If there is a knowledge base article about running REPRTS on surveys, that would be helpful.

  2. admin says:

    Thanks for your response. We will email you some details about working with Survey Reports that could be helpful.

  3. Lydia Walker says:

    I am looking for some information on reporting, the data from the reports need a lot of scrubbing, before I can analyze for senior team. I would appreciate if you could send me some details about workig with Survey Reports that you referenced above. Thank you

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