SURVEY MYTHS DEBUNKED - Only Experts Can Conduct Good Surveys
Is it possible for an individual with no previous experience or training in surveys to conduct a good survey? This is a question that many small business owners often ask themselves, and it’s one of the reasons many are hesitant to conduct surveys themselves. But with survey creating and analyzing getting simpler and simpler, it’s a pity letting this stand between you and your consumers' thoughts and opinions.
This fear of conducting surveys is partly because of one particular belief about surveys: that a really good survey is a complex undertaking that only an expert can do properly. But is that true?
Why Conducting a Good Survey Is Hard Work
It’s true that there’s more to it than just creating and sending all the questions you might have. A good survey, according to the accepted science, involves four major stages that may be broken down further to more stages, and each of them can greatly affect the success of your survey. In short, the four stages are:
Planning the survey: this one has three mini-stages squeezed in there. The first stage is figuring out what information you want to get. For example, you might be looking to know whether your products or services are properly priced, or whether there is a market for a new product or service line. The second stage is deciding what sort of people you need to hear from and where to find those people. This is known as sampling. The answer to this second stage leads directly to the third stage, which is deciding what survey technique to use. Is it better to use online surveys or telephone surveys? Or maybe direct interviews? Or a combination of two or more methods?
Creating the survey: this is the stage that is commonly mistaken as the first stage. It is about two things: creating a list of respondents, and crafting the survey questions. It is a surprisingly delicate phase, one that will probably require more thought than you’d initially think. This is because a wrong list basically destroys the entire survey, and the questions have to be logical, short, and very clear, so that there is absolutely no room for ambiguity or confusion. And all this while trying to keep your number of questions to a minimum.
Conducting the survey: this is the phase when the surveys are shared with the respondents, using the survey method you previously selected. Also in this stage is the collection of the results. Depending on the method selected, this is the phase where the cost of the project piles up. If you are not using online surveys, you may have to pay assistants to do the legwork, pay for transport, communication, and in some cases pay for incentives for the people being surveyed.
Analyzing the results: this is usually the easiest phase. It is about looking at the results to understand their core message and implications. It is at this point that you know whether the survey has succeeded in giving you the information you set out to get, or whether it has failed. It can, however, also be a confusing and time-consuming phase, depending on the amount of data you have to sift through and the range of questions you have asked. Digesting and packaging the results in such a way as to be shared with others in the organization – for instance in graphs and summary formats both in hard and soft copy - can also be another tedious affair. Important to remember here is to always think beyond your respondents’ answers: do not just look at what they answered, but also think about why they answered that.
Why You Need Not Be an Expert to Conduct a Good Survey
Yet, despite this hidden complexity of properly conducting surveys, it is not true that only experts can get it done correctly. In fact, it is usually possible for any individual seated in front of a computer to conduct an excellent survey.
The trick is to keep in mind that, generally speaking, all surveys fall in one of two categories. The line that separates the two categories is what they are aimed at to achieve at and the size of the population they aim to assess. Depending on the category they will either need some expertise on the matter or they can easily be conducted by just anyone.
The first type is what you might call a policy survey. These are the surveys that are aimed at gathering data for major policy decision-making or academic studies. They are usually being used by a government department, a large business, or a department in an academic institution. Usually, these surveys require the person taking them to be some sort of expert in that field. This is because it takes some specialized knowledge to figure out what information to look for and to make sense of the results.
The second type is what you might call a business or commercial survey. They are about getting information that is relevant for one company, like how customers rate a product or service, or whether there is demand for a new product. This type of survey can usually be conducted online. However, they don’t require the person taking the survey to be an expert in the matter, although this person should have knowledge about the particular product or industry about which they’re surveying. In other words, this type is much more accessible, since basically anyone in an organization could conduct it.
Enter Online Survey Sites
For the second type, this is where technology comes in. Conducting a superb business survey is easy enough thanks to the now widespread availability of survey software. The common denominator in all these software applications is that they hugely simplify or even automate many of the otherwise tedious and complex stages in the survey process such as designing the questionnaire, sending it out, receiving and processing the results, and then analyzing them.
So, basically, you now have no excuse anymore to not be conducting your own surveys. Get started.
Is there something about surveys that you think is confusing or often done wrong? Give us a shout in the comments and we will do our best to help clear it up!
Photo credit: Matt (thanks, Matt)
Jan 24, 2014