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Introduction to survey writing: goals and objectives

Survey writing and creating a survey that gets you good data is almost impossible without knowing your survey goals and objectives. In this article we go back to basics and talk about this most-important first step in creating surveys.

When a company or team wants to gain insights from their target audiences, the obvious choice is to create a survey with thoughtful questions.

Before you do anything else, you must answer two fundamental questions:

  1. What are the survey objectives?
  2. What goals do you want to accomplish using the survey?

How to create strong survey objectives

To get real value out of your objectives in survey writing, they need to target the areas you want to learn more about. Generic objectives just won’t do.

For the purposes of this lesson, we’ll talk about a survey for a hypothetical VIP program. What we want to know is how likely people are to renew their VIP membership and/or refer the program to a friend.

Whenever possible, your survey questions should be quantifiable. This makes measuring the attitudes of your customers much easier later on.

A good way to get started is to write an overall goal. Ours might be: “To obtain ratings from current members about their satisfaction with the VIP program.”

A strong goal like this one will solidify and inform your objectives. Knowing our goal, we can start to identify objectives. We might want to find out:

  • How many VIP meetings our members attend
  • How relevant VIP meetings are to VIP members
  • How satisfied are VIP members with the discounts they receive

… and so on.

Let your objectives shape your survey writing

If you have specific and measurable objectives, we can start to think about writing questions.

But before we do, it’s best to make absolutely sure that we are confident about the subject at hand. There are a couple of ways you can do this. One is to consult with experts; the other is to do some research before you write.

Get a survey expert to help

Your team will be more than capable of creating thought-provoking questions. Even so, it can be beneficial to talk to an experienced researcher with expertise in survey writing.

Someone with strong survey-building experience can help you clarify the type of information you’re seeking. Bringing in a third party adds an objective pair of eyes to the process. They will be able to help you make your objectives more specific, and find out where you might need or want more information.

Objective eyes can spot gaps, weaknesses, and vague objectives that you might otherwise not see.

Talk to a subject matter expert!

Depending on the type of survey you are designing, it can be helpful to talk to a subject matter expert before you do your own research.

Experts in their fields know about the subtlety in a topic area: The things that can look important but are ultimately distracting. If you have the time and ability to talk to someone in the field, it can save you a lot of time and help you focus your research into the right areas.

The other benefit of talking to a subject-matter expert is that they are also expert researchers. They know what the pitfalls are with certain types of questions, and know what to expect. They can help you to shape your objectives into questions that are really going to work for your survey.

Research the topic to generate good questions

Now that you’ve identified your goals and objectives, and have talked to some experts about your survey, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and do some research.

There are several reasons why you want to research your topic before writing questions about it. It can help you uncover answers to certain questions, and help you form questions you would not have considered.

This also represents an opportunity to compare the facts and figures you get from different resources. When facts vary, it is an indication that more research is needed. It’s a great opportunity for your survey!

Beyond discovering these golden nuggets, conducting research will help you to craft smart questions for your audience.

Create survey objectives up-front for the best outcome

By resisting the urge to dive head-first into survey writing, you will be well on your way to creating a great survey.

Let’s recap the process:

  1. Write down your survey goals
  2. Identify the survey objectives
  3. Get feedback from survey and subject-matter experts
  4. Research the topic from end to end.
  5. Create your questions.

By following these steps, you will make sure that you asking the right questions of the right people – to get good data – every time.

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