Preparing an Online Questionnaire - How to Conduct an Online Survey
So, you've decided to conduct an online survey. There are a few
questions in your mind that you would like answered and you are on the lookout
for a fast and inexpensive way to find out more about your customers, clients
etc. The first and foremost thing you need to decide what the objectives of the
study are. Ensure that you can phrase these objectives as questions or
measurements. If you can't, you are better off looking at other means of
gathering data like focus groups and other qualitative methods. Online Surveys
tend to focus in on more on "Quantitative" data collection.
- Review the basic objectives of the study. What are you trying to
discover? What actions do you want to take as a result of the survey? This
helps you double check the validity of the data collection mechanism. Online
Surveys are just one way of collecting and quantifying perspectives.
- Visualize all of the relevant information items you would like to
have. What will the output report look like? What charts and graphs will be
prepared? What information do you need to be assured that action is
- Rank each topic in items 1 and 2 according to the value of the topic.
List the most important topics first. Revisit items 1 and 2 again to make sure
the objectives, topics and information you need are appropriate. Remember, you
can't solve the problem if you ask the wrong questions.
- How easy or difficult is it for the respondent to provide information
on each topic? If it is difficult, is there another way to obtain the
information by asking another question?
This is probably the most
important step. Online Surveys have to be Precise, Clear and Concise. Due to the
nature of the "Web" and the fickleness associated, if your questions are too
complicated and are not easy to understand, you will have a high "drop out"
- Create a sequence for the topics that is unbiased. Make sure that
the questions asked first do not bias the results of the next questions.
Sometimes providing too much information, or disclosing purpose of the study can
Once you have a sequence of topics, you can have a basic
layout of a survey. It is always prudent to add an "Introductory" text to
explain the project and what is required off the respondent. It is also
professional to have an ending "Thank You" text as well as information about
where to find the results of the survey, when they are published.
- Determine the type of question that is best suited to answer the
question and provide enough robustness to meet analysis requirements. This means
do you use open-ended text questions, dichotomous, multiple choice, rank order,
scaled, or constant sum (ratio scale) questions. There is a fine line you need
to walk here - Generally tougher analysis requirements will lead to more
complicated questionnaire design. However there are a couple of tools available
to make life easier: -
- Page Breaks - Avoid having a huge scrolling survey. Introduce page
breaks as necessary. Please also refrain from just having one question per page.
This increases the time to complete the survey as well as increases the chances
for "drop outs".
- Skip Login - Use Page Skip Logic to make your surveys
"Smart". Avoid using text like, "If you answered No to Q1 then Answer Q4" - this
causes respondent frustration and increases the "drop out" rate. Design the
survey using the Page Logic so that the correct questions are automatically
routed based on previous responses.
- Write the questions. You may need to write several questions for
each topic, selecting the best one. You might also be better off dividing the
survey into multiple sections.
- Sequence the questions so that they are unbiased.
- Repeat all of the steps above to find any major holes. Are the
questions really answered? Have someone review it for you.
- Time the length of the survey. A survey should take less than five
minutes. At three to four questions per minute, you are limited to about 15
questions. One open end text question counts for three multiple choice
questions. Most online software tools will record the time taken for the
respondents to answer questions.
- Pretest the survey to 20 or more people. Obtain their feedback... in
detail. What were they unsure about? Did they have questions? Did they have
trouble understanding what you wanted? Did they take a point of view not covered
in your answers or question?
- An easy way to do this is to create another survey, with a few "open ended"
essay questions along with your main project. Let's call this the "feedback
Email the "Project" survey to your test group and then email the "feedback"
survey also after that.
- In that way, you can have your test group send you comments regarding the
functionality as well as usability of your "Project" survey by using you
- Revise your online questionnaire incorporating the feedback that you
- Send the Survey out to all your respondents!
Online surveys are a great alternative to expensive mail or
telephone surveys. There are a few caveats to online surveys however that you
must be aware of. If you are trying to survey a representative sample of the
general population, please bear in mind that not everyone is online. Moreover,
not everyone is receptive to online survey also. Our research has shown that the
demographic that responds to online survey invitations is generally biased
toward younger people.