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Productivity / Using surveys

Survey writing: Do your surveys say what you mean?

As we mentioned in our earlier article on survey design, good survey writing is very important. Accurate phrasing gives accurate responses you can rely on to improve your knowledge of your customers. Check your survey against this phraseology checklist!

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Check 1: Will the question be interpreted the same way by everyone?

In survey writing, phrasing must be clear so survey participants cannot interpret a question differently. You may need to use a qualifying question, which can narrow down the group to which they belong.

Qualifying questions often ask for age, gender, income, industry, postcode, marital status and position in the workplace. This enables you to determine how different segments of your market feel about the same question, product or service.

For example, a question like “Do you think we have good staff?” focuses on the word “good”, which may be interpreted quite differently by your neighbour, partner, children or parents, never mind your customers!

You might describe “good” staff in a restaurant as those who leave your table mostly alone, or you might consider “good” staff those who come by regularly to check if they can help you.

Check 2: Does each question only ask about a single thing?

Avoid double-barrelled questions as you won’t know whether your participants are answering the first part, second part, or an average of both.

Check your survey writing for the “joining” words: and, whilst, also and plus. If you have used these in a question, chances are it is now double-barrelled.

"A question like 'Do you think we have good staff?' focuses on the word 'good', which may be interpreted quite differently by your neighbour, partner, children or parents, never mind your customers!"

Another trick to watch for, especially in interviews, is a change of order in the words used in the question which can completely alter the response. Here is an example.

A Dominican and a Jesuit priest debated whether it is a sin to smoke and pray at the same time. After failing to reach a conclusion, each consulted his respective superior. When they next met, the Dominican asked the Jesuit his superior’s response.

Want more articles like this? Check out the using surveys section.

The Jesuit replied, “He said it was all right.”

“That’s funny,” the Dominican responded. “My superior said it was a sin.”

Puzzled, the Jesuit inquired, “What did you ask him?”

The Dominican replied, “I asked him if it was all right to smoke while praying.”

“Oh,” said the Jesuit. “I asked my superior if it was all right to pray while smoking.”

Check 3: Is the frame of reference for the question clear?

It’s important to be clear whether you want to know about their most recent experience as your customer or about their entire experience of being your customer over time.

A “filter statement” can assist here.

For example: “Thinking about your most recent experience/purchase/visit, how did you find……”.

Alternatively, make it broader: “Thinking about all the experiences you’ve had with our staff/product/service, how did you find….”

If you have made a change in the way you deal with your customers, say a year ago, then ask: “Thinking about the last year, how did you find the product/service…”.

Then build on the question with: “Which of the following best describes your experiences with the product/service in the last 12 months compared to before that?”

Next time we’ll look more closely at specific wording issues when writing surveys, another critical element in effective survey design.

Kate Tribe

enables decision makers with limited time and resources to be clear-headed about the direction of their business. Drive change through meaningful data that solves the puzzle of understanding your tribe.

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