Not all data collection methods are created equal.
There are times when you need to know what the people around you think — about a certain issue, your organization, or what you’re doing in their community. Everyone knows the best way to find out what people think is to ask them, but that’s easier said than done. You probably don’t have the time or resources to go door-to-door and speak personally with every member of the population you’re studying.
And that’s fine — hey, that’s what online surveys were invented for, right?
But not all those tools will provide you with accurate online survey results. There’s a little bit of skill required to create a survey that will provide valuable insight. And a small amount of patience and effort can take the data you collect from merely interesting in an anecdotal way to educational, informative, and incredibly valuable.
So how do you get the most accurate online survey results? Here are three easy steps that will get you on the right track.
Step One: Set a Goal
This may seem like a ridiculous instruction, but you’d be surprised at the number of organizations I’ve worked with that decide to conduct a survey simply because they have the vague notion they need feedback. Feedback is great — but the feedback you get will have more value if you know what it is you’re trying to determine (and who your audience is) before you start asking questions.
For example, say you want to ask people for their thoughts on chocolate. Depending on what your ultimate goal is, your survey questions can vary quite a lot:
- Are you a chocolate maker or retailer?
- Is your focus on healthy diets or fitness?
- Do you want to find out what kinds of chocolate people like?
- Are you trying to understand why people eat chocolate?
- Would you like to determine how much people will pay for chocolate?
The more specific your goal and audience, the easier it will be to design questions that gather accurate online survey results.
Step Two: Write Good Questions
This is where that patience and effort stuff I mentioned earlier comes in. Sure, you could just rattle off a bunch of questions that are tangentially related to the subject you’re gathering information on; but the best way to get clear, useful answers is to make your questions direct, specific and easy to understand. Here are a few tips for composing quality questions that will deliver accurate online survey results:
- Put yourself in their shoes.
You may know the subject matter you’re asking about inside and out, but that doesn’t mean your audience does. Make sure that your questions are easy to understand and don’t leave room for misinterpretation.
- Keep it unbiased.
Ensure your questions do not (intentionally or otherwise) suggest to your respondents that one answer is preferable to another. Even if a slanted question is completely accidental, it can have a major effect on your survey results.
- Don’t ask more than you need to know.
Asking too many questions is the quickest way to exhaust your respondents and have them abandon your survey before completion. Make sure each question is necessary and relevant. (Survey logic can help filter questions that are only relevant to some of your users.)
- But make sure you ask enough.
You don’t want to keep your survey so short it doesn’t provide the information you need, or worse, condense it in a way that makes questions unclear. (The question How much do you like cats or dogs on a scale of 1-5? may make your survey shorter than asking one question about cats and one about dogs, but what if users really love one and hate the other?)
Step Three: Weight Your Results
I can’t overstate the importance of this step. The people who respond to your survey may not accurately represent the population you are studying. What if most of the survey responses come from women? Or senior citizens? Or high school dropouts?
Unless the groups you’re studying are specifically women, seniors, or those who failed to complete secondary school, this means your results may be skewed compared to the views of the entire population. Weighting responses is a critical way to ensure you get accurate online survey results.
So how do you weight survey responses? It’s not that complicated, really.
- Include demographic questions in your survey, like age, gender, income, or education level
- Once you’ve gathered your responses, compare the demographics of your respondents to those of the population as a whole:
If 10% of your survey respondents were men, but half of the population you’re studying is male, the answers you got from men need additional weight — that is to say, each male response has to count for more than each female response, in order to achieve the 50-50 balance of the actual population.
- Analyze your data using your weighted results
The Secret to Accurate Online Survey Results
We understand you don’t always have time or resources to dedicate to all these steps. That’s why we developed Veracio — a tool that automatically weights survey results for you, taking some of the work out of getting the most accurate online survey results.
Veracio is free, online (there’s no download) and open to anyone who wants to ensure the data they’re working with is accurate. Create an account to start working on your next survey, or get in touch with us if you have more questions.
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