ARTICLE • 5 min

Your Checklist for a Well-Designed Survey

From our experience of working with the nonprofit and social services sector, we’ve found that the data collection stage of any outcomes measurement journey tends to be the most challenging.

This is due to factors such as arduous data collection methods, the unwillingness of beneficiaries to provide valid and accurate information, as well as generally low participation and response rates due to poorly designed surveys.

In this article, we focus on what makes a good survey design that will help to increase response rates.

1. Keep things simple

Complex surveys with question wordings and answer options that are cryptic and not clearly worded get significantly lower response rates than simple surveys.

When designing your survey question, it helps to read it out loud.  Hearing your own voice provides crucial feedback on what the question would sound like to someone else, and whether they would be able to understand it.

Keep your survey questions brief and on-point. Be sure that you are focusing respondents on only one question at a time, and avoid having multiple sub-parts or sub-questions within a question.

What not to do:

The youth mentoring program has been running for some time now. As a valued participant of the program, we would like you to tell us how you felt the sessions have been running. Do you think there is any room for improvement? On a scale of 1 to 5, rate your satisfaction levels with our sessions.

Try this instead:

On a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 being not at all satisfied and 5 being very satisfied), how satisfied are you with our program?

2. Keep it short

We know that lengthy surveys will reduce response and completion rates.

When survey respondents see that a survey will take a long time to complete, or that they have already started the survey but feels like it keeps going on and on without the end in sight, they are not likely to finish what they have started.

Remember that when you are asking people to voluntarily take part in your survey, they are providing you their time for free. So, if your survey takes more than 5 minutes to complete, it is unlikely to get high engagement.

I have come across surveys that go on for as long as 30 to 40 minutes in length, due to the sheer volume and types of questions being asked. Here are some quick tips on how to keep your survey short.

  • Keep the number of questions to 15 or less.
  • Ask simple questions. One question at a time.
  • Picklist questions which let respondents select their answer from a list of options requires minimal thinking, and is preferred to open text questions.
  • When using picklist questions, provide no more than five answer options. Any more than five gives respondents too much choice, and will add to overall survey length and completion time

3. Be considerate

This is an area that is often overlooked. When designing your survey, make sure you check that it is appropriate for your audience. Here are some useful checkpoints:

  • Are the questions culturally appropriate?
  • Are the questions age appropriate?
  • Have you asked any personal questions that could make your respondent feel uncomfortable sharing?
  • Have you asked any leading questions that reflects your personal views or agenda on a topic, that can result in a response bias?

4. Choose the right survey distribution method

Your survey distribution method can heavily influence the response rates.

What survey response rate should you be aiming for?

Be sure to make sure that the survey is distributed in a method that is suitable for your audience, based on their demographic and requirements.

For example, you might want to avoid email and web-based surveys or online polls if your beneficiary cohort is unlikely to have access to the internet, or is not tech savvy.

Wrapping up

We see many organisations struggle with designing a survey that would attract high engagement and response rates. Creating a survey from a blank canvas is no easy feat, which is why we recommend using survey templates as much as possible and customise or add your own questions only when necessary. Socialsuite lets you build your survey from expert designed templates, so you never have to start from a nil base. Try Socialsuite for free here.

Further Reading:

How to overcome common data collection hurdles

Your survey cover letter template

Do all surveys need a consent form?

Dr Clara Ong
Cofounder and Social Impact Expert @ Socialsuite
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