Online surveys

So, you've decided to conduct an online survey. There are a few questions in your mind that you would like answered and you are on the lookout for a fast and inexpensive way to find out more about your customers, clients etc. Online survey gurus, QuestionPro, think that the first and foremost thing you need to decide what the objectives of the survey are. Ensure that you can phrase these objectives as questions or measurements. If you can't, you are better off looking at other means of gathering data like focus groups and other qualitative methods. Online Surveys tend to focus in on more on "Quantitative" data collection.

How to build a quality online survey

1. Review Objectives

Review the basic objectives of the study. What are you trying to discover? What actions do you want to take as a result of the survey? This helps you double check the validity of the data collection mechanism. Online Surveys are just one way of collecting and quantifying perspectives.

2. Visualize information

Visualize all of the relevant information items you would like to have. What will the output report look like? What charts and graphs will be prepared? What information do you need to be assured that action is warranted?

3. Rank topics

Rank each topic in items 1 and 2 according to the value of the topic. List the most important topics first. Revisit items 1 and 2 again to make sure the objectives, topics and information you need are appropriate. Remember, you can't solve the problem if you ask the wrong questions.

4. Assess ease of answering

How easy or difficult is it for the respondent to provide information on each topic? If it is difficult, is there another way to obtain the information by asking another question? This is probably the most important step. Online Surveys have to be Precise, Clear and Concise. Due to the nature of the "Web" and the fickleness associated, if your questions are too complicated and are not easy to understand, you will have a high "drop out" rate.

5. Create topic sequence

Create a sequence for the topics that is unbiased. Make sure that the questions asked first do not bias the results of the next questions. Sometimes providing too much information, or disclosing purpose of the study can create bias. Once you have a sequence of topics, you can have a basic layout of a survey. It is always prudent to add an "Introductory" text to explain the project and what is required off the respondent. It is also professional to have an ending "Thank You" text as well as information about where to find the results of the survey, when they are published.

6. Choose question 'type'

Determine the type of question that is best suited to answer the question and provide enough robustness to meet analysis requirements. This means do you use open-ended text questions, dichotomous, multiple choice, rank order, scaled, or constant sum (ratio scale) questions. There is a fine line you need to walk here - Generally tougher analysis requirements will lead to more complicated questionnaire design. However there are a couple of tools available to make life easier: -

  • Page Breaks - Avoid having a huge scrolling survey. Introduce page breaks as necessary. Please also refrain from just having one question per page. This increases the time to complete the survey as well as increases the chances for "drop outs".
  • Branching - Use Branching and Skip Logic to make your surveys "Smart". Avoid using text like, "If you answered No to Q1 then Answer Q4" - this causes respondent frustration and increases the "drop out" rate. Design the survey using Branching Logic so that the correct questions are automatically routed based on previous responses.

7. Write the questions

You may need to write several questions for each topic, selecting the best one. You might also be better off dividing the survey into multiple sections.

8. Sequence the questions so that they are unbiased.

9. Plug the gaps

Repeat all of the steps above to find any major gaps. Are the questions really answered? Have someone review it for you.

10. Time

A survey should take less than five minutes. At three to four questions per minute, you are limited to about 15 questions. One open end text question counts for three multiple choice questions. Most online software tools will record the time taken for the respondents to answer questions.

11. Test

Pretest the survey to 20 or more people. Obtain their feedback... in detail. What were they unsure about? Did they have questions? Did they have trouble understanding what you wanted? Did they take a point of view not covered in your answers or question?

12. Revise

Revise your online questionnaire incorporating the feedback that you got.

13. Send

Send the Survey out to all your respondents!

Online survey resources

Online survey services


There are a few drawbacks to online surveys however that you must be aware of. If you are trying to survey a representative sample of the general population, please bear in mind that not everyone is online. Moreover, not everyone is receptive to online survey.