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HOW TO

How to Conduct Effective Online Surveys
By: Developer Shed
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    2004-06-25

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    How to Conduct Effective Online Surveys
    by Web Based Survey Software

    Although they are inexpensive and product fast results, online surveysstill need to be conducted properly to be really effective. The keysteps for conducting effective online surveys are:

    • Identify your objective
    • Decide what information you need
    • Develop a questionnaire
    • Conduct the survey
    • Analyze the responses
    • Recommend a course of action

    Identify your objective

    Online surveys are conducted to find out the characteristics,behaviors, opinions, and knowledge of a particular population. Nomatter what the subject matter, all surveys are conducted with anobjective, to gather information relevant to a specific problemor situation. And the key to a successful survey is clearlyidentifying that objective upfront. To do that, ask yourself "whatproblem am I trying to solve?" The ideal objective has a narrowscope and can be clearly stated. The wider the scope, the morecomplex your survey and the less meaningful itsresults. Always remember, your survey is only as good as yourunderstanding of your objective!

    Decide what information you need

    Once you have defined your objective, identify the information youneed to gather to achieve your objective. If the objective is clear andnarrow, the information you need to gather will be apparent. Bespecific and avoid the temptation to gather "extra" bits of informationthat are "nice to know" but not relevant to your objective. Once youhave identified the information you need, you should explore thepossibility of gathering it from existing data sources. With anabundanceof information available from corporate databases and publicinformationsources, you might gather the information without even conducting asurvey!

    Develop a questionnaire

    Developing the questionnaire is undoubtedly the most important part ofconducting a survey. The quality of the questions will determine thequality of the results and the effectiveness of your survey. Gettipsfor developing an effective questionnaire.

    Conduct the survey

    Once you have developed the questionnaire, you need to test it on afew people to determine if it is clearly written and can be understoodby people representing your potential respondents. Testing the surveymight take several iterations, but it is well worth the effort. Onceyou are satisfied that your questionnaire is clear and unambiguous, youare ready to conduct your survey.

    If you are going to distribute your survey through email, make surethat your email message is clear and compelling. A boring message willnot get the attention of your potential respondents and decrease yourresponse rate. Additionally, you should also remember the followingthings:

    • Address emails to a single person whenever possible.
    • Always use the blind carbon copy (BCC) if you must send a singleemail message to a group of people.
    • Include a valid email address in the "From" field or therecipients will consider your message as spam.
    • Provide the URL that will take people directly to your survey, ifyou are inviting them to the website to take the survey.
    • Tell recipients how to contact you if they have a problem orconcern.
    • Identify the source of purchased email addresses so recipientsknow who to contact if they want to be removed from the list.
    • Ignore the "flame" or "hate" messages you might receive inresponse to your email invitation. A small percentage of the recipientsalways take offense to something or the other.

    If you are going to distribute your survey from your website, youneed to consider how will get visitors to take the survey. If your sitehas just enough traffic, you can probably place a hypertext link onyourhome page through which visitors can reach your survey. If you haveveryheavy traffic, you can use a program on your web server to randomlydeliver your survey to some of the visitors. However, if your websitedoesn't have enough traffic, you should consider sending invitations byemail or other traditional methods.

    Once you have sent out notifications, responses will begin to comein immediately. For online surveys that invite individual participants(email or postal mail), most people will respond within 72 hours ofreceiving your invitation. Surveys that rely on passive participation(clicking on website links or responding to indirect advertising)generally take much longer. In either case, you need to decide how longto keep your surve active based on your target audience and how manyresponses you need to collect. If you are surveying a known group ofpeople (e.g. customers, employees, students, etc) you might need tosend out reminders to remind some people to take the survey.

    Analyze the responses

    You can begin to analyze the responses as soon as you receive them.Unlike traditional methods, online surveys make it possible to analyzeresponses without human intervention. Responses are received inelectronic format and immediately added to a database. Once in thedatabase, they can be manipulated with a variety of tools, includingthe survey software, statistical packages, spreadsheets, andpresentation programs. The key to proper analysis of online surveys isno different than that for traditional methods. You must be able tofilter the data and display results in a variety of formats foreffectiveanalysis. And always remember to relate the analysis back to yourobjective.

    Recommend a course of action

    The last step in conducting effective online surveys is to recommend acourse of action. With your objective in mind, you should be able torecommend specific actions as a result of your survey. Yourrecommendations can vary widely depending upon the nature of theproblem you are trying to solve. If you cannot identify any actions asa result of your survey, then it is highly possible that your objectivewas too broad, your information needs were incorrect or incomplete, oryour questionnaire was poorly written. In these cases, your recommendedaction should be to conduct further study.

    Credits

    This article has been copyrighted and has been reprinted with thepermission of WebBased Survey Software. If you want to reprint this article, pleasesend us an emailto inform us and we will grant you the permission. But please ensurethat this message appears at the end of the article and proper creditsare given to WebBased Survey Software.
    DISCLAIMER: The content provided in this article is not warranted or guaranteed by Developer Shed, Inc. The content provided is intended for entertainment and/or educational purposes in order to introduce to the reader key ideas, concepts, and/or product reviews. As such it is incumbent upon the reader to employ real-world tactics for security and implementation of best practices. We are not liable for any negative consequences that may result from implementing any information covered in our articles or tutorials. If this is a hardware review, it is not recommended to open and/or modify your hardware.

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