Top Tips for Constructing and Conducting Effective Surveys

For membership organisations, the survey is one of the most powerful tools for gathering feedback from a membership… if it is done Alice headshotright.

Read on to get some very useful survey tips from Alice Dartnell, Membership Engagement Manager at the Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCoA).

Asking questions is easy but asking the right questions is the tricky bit. This guide offers some useful tips to help you get meaningful information and data from your survey. Getting the survey questions right the first time is crucial because you can rarely go back to the respondent to clarify what their answer meant and if you amend the question, you’ll amend the answer.

Tip one: Be mindful of your language and ensure it is neutral

Never prime or lead in a survey question because you can end up skewing the answer given. For example, asking “what do you think of X” is not leading, as long as you give enough opportunity for respondents to answer truthfully (a free text box might be a good idea here). However, “do you think X is caused by a, b or c” is assuming that the respondent views something (negatively or positively) and/or agrees with your thoughts, which is leading.

Tip two: Get the title right

Make the title of the survey (and email notification inviting people to the survey) as enticing as you can. You can try testing out two titles by sending emails and surveys out to a sample/pool of respondents first to see what gets the biggest response rate prior to the whole survey going out.

Tip three: Choose an appropriate time to send your survey

Give careful consideration to when you would like the survey to go out and end. Be mindful of potential hindrances and assistances, such as weekends, bank holidays, summer breaks etc. For example, Friday 5pm might not have as greater impact as people are in ‘weekend mode’, but perhaps 4pm Sunday would work best for you as you know this is a time when your members sit down to answer emails.

Tip four: Don’t ask questions that lead to vague data

When measuring the frequency of an event or behaviour, ask for the actual number of times the event or behaviour occurred during the reference period. Avoid asking for vague categories of time like often, seldom, never as this is subjective. Often for me could be once a week but it might be once a month for another.

Tip five: Save the boring questions for the end

To maximise the chance of responses, ask the most interesting questions at the beginning of the survey, and leave the demographic questions (such as age, sector, and location) and the end of the survey. Once a member has invested time into answering the important and interesting questions at the start, they are more likely to complete the survey to the end. Don’t put them off from the very start with boring questions!

Tip six: Identifying favourites

One way to simply identify what the most preferred options are is to ask respondents to choose a top three rather than list all the options and ask them to rank all of them (which can be time consuming and tedious). For example, asking a member a question like, “what three benefits do you most use” or “what three services would you recommend to a non-member” will generate answers that will show you what is most valued.

Tip seven:  Give option for not answering

Always consider a “prefer not to answer” or “not applicable” or “other” option to give respondents an opportunity to not answer and/or not force an answer that might skew your results. This may also help with the response rate and reduce the number of participants who drop out half way through

And finally, maybe you haven’t got the response rate you wanted?

Don’t be tempted to keep your survey open too long, as the longer the time limit, the less likely an action is going to be taken. In a study with redeemable vouchers, the longer the deadline, the less likely the voucher was to be exchanged, showing that the longer the expiration date, the less likely it was to work.

Good luck with your survey.

Alice has been working within the membership sector for over 6 years and is always seeking ways to improve engagement and value. Alice is currently the Head of Membership Engagement at the Royal College of Anaesthetists where she is responsible for improving the strategic aim of broadening their inclusivity and engagement with members.

Connect with Alice on Twitter @alicedartnell

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