Survey Planning And Why It's Important

Philip Cleave
February 1, 2021

From customer satisfaction and customer engagement to consumer awareness and employee happiness. There can be many reasons for carrying out a survey in order to better understand different target audience groups and improve their varying needs, which could include anything from enhancing service delivery and the quality of products and services for your customers, to improving working conditions for your employees.

However, whatever your reasons, any survey or questionnaire that you undertake needs to be executed in the right way if you’re to get the greatest benefit from the time and money you have invested in it.

Why planning your survey matters

From the preparation stage, such as what you want to find out and who you need to reach, to the execution stage, including the creation of your questionnaire, selection of questions and choice of distribution channels. There’s lots to think about before embarking on your survey, which is why it’s important to have a survey plan.

This survey planning process is critical, otherwise you could risk creating an over inflated and rudderless survey, which results in poor engagement levels and findings that you’re unable to draw any useful conclusions from.

In contrast, having an effective survey plan in place will help focus your goals, objectives, map out your implementation including any steps for conducting your survey research and prepare you for data analysis. Having this should put you in the best position to obtain data that answers what you were looking to find out and helps you to take the right decisions and actions.

Essentials when planning your next survey

When it comes to survey basics around survey planning and design there are some basic but essential steps for conducting a survey, which will help to ensure you avoid some of the pitfalls we’ve briefly touched on already, while maximizing your chances of success.

Here’s some essential steps when carrying out a survey that you need to be thinking about:

Survey goals and objectives:

It may sound surprising, but there are still some businesses out there that create and send out surveys, without being fully clear about what they want to find out. Without this clarity, when you get your data back, it will be extremely difficult to know what you should be measuring and the value that your answers are providing you with as a result.

In contrast, with set goals and objectives, not only will your survey be more organized and focused, but you will also be much clearer about your survey’s purpose, what you should be measuring and subsequently how successful you have been in meeting your aims.

While your goals help you to determine your overall aims for running a survey – namely what you want to find out – your objectives essentially break these down into the measurable survey steps that you will need to deliver to achieve these goals. So, it’s important to be clear about these right from the start, if you’re to keep your survey focused and on track.

Specifics around target audience:

While your target audience might seem obvious, such that, if your business is targeting a new market then the audience of your survey will be consumers, of if your organization is running an employee survey, you will be targeting staff. There can be varying levels of extra detail.

For example, if you were involved in market research and wanted to know more about how different groups used a particular product in your portfolio, you may need to shape your survey and questions, so that when it came to the analysis stage, it would be easier to segment your results and investigate whether different demographics such as age, education and income, might be influencing how different groups used your product.

Sample size:

Your sample size is another crucial survey process step that you need to address, because if it’s too small it could harm the accuracy and validity of your survey results.

When it comes to the online survey, your sample size refers to the actual number of completed responses your survey generates.

Sample size is critical, as in most cases surveying the entire target population of interest is just not feasible, due to the large volume of people that exist within it. So, by surveying samples of that population instead, it helps researchers to uncover insights and make some presumptions about the behaviors and opinions of that larger target population.

However, it is also worth pointing out, that regardless of the survey sample size you end up choosing, that sample group would need to accurately represent the larger target population, if it were to yield valid survey responses.

It’s important to try to calculate the right sample size for your needs, because if your sample size was made up of too few responses, your resulting data may not be representative of your target population – making your results both inaccurate and unhelpful to your decision making.

While there is a sample size formula available for those with strong maths skills, for those for whom maths is not their forte, there has been the emergence of tools that can help with this, with the sample size calculator representing one of the best solutions to achieve this.

In fact, our very own sample size calculator can be used to determine how many survey responses you’ll need to achieve a desired level of accuracy in your results, which is also representative of your target population.

If you’re currently involved in planning your next survey and you’re trying to work out your ideal sample size, why not try out our sample size calculator now.

Number and choice of questions:

When it comes to the number of questions to include in your survey, there is no clear-cut answer, as it depends on the type of survey, its goal and how invested respondents are in completing it. And because different types of questions can take longer than others to complete, particularly open-ended ones, when compared to closed-ended questions, it’s better to measure your survey by how long it takes to complete, rather than the number of questions. Generally, you don’t want your survey completion time to run beyond 10 minutes, which you can easily find out by doing a test run of it with a sample of respondents.

As for your choice of questions, that will genuinely be guided by what you’re looking to find out and whether you’re taking a quantitative or a qualitative approach to your research.

For example, if your survey is very much a fact gathering exercise and you’re trying to quantify something such as how many people drive a car and how often they drive it, you will lean towards closed-end questions, where respondents are typically asked to provide either Yes or No answers or select their answers from a pre-set list of options.

However, if aim of your survey is more qualitative in nature and you’re trying to find out why people act or feel in a certain way, you will be better off using open-ended questions, where respondents literally have a free reign to fully express how and why they feel the way they do.

Distribution methods:

Whether you’re looking to send a customer experience survey, or a survey to help you with market research, or maybe you’re looking to reach out to a specific business or consumer audience. Whatever type of survey or audience you’re looking to target, you need to think about the distribution channels you will using to send it, as different approaches tend to work better for different survey types and audiences.

For example, for an internal or more formal business audience, where you could be sending out surveys such as an employee pulse for staff, or a satisfaction feedback survey among stakeholder members of a trade regulatory body, you may find you have greatest success with emailing your survey. With this kind of audience, it’s more likely that they will be working from more traditional platforms, such as a desktop or laptop computer, which is why the email channel is likely to be preferable.

In contrast, if you were conducting a market research survey and targeting a consumer audience, you would be more likely to use a wider range of distribution channels in order to cater for an audience likely to encompass a much wider range of demographic factors. You would also need to cater for the fact that due to different lifestyle factors people among this audience, would be likely to be completing their survey at different times, which could also determine which distribution medium best suited them. Besides desktop or laptop computers, many of this audience could be completing their survey on more mobile devices, widening the survey distribution channels you could be reaching out to them on, to encompass web pop ups, apps, SMS, QR codes and social media channels.


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