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Understanding Complex Survey Design

Applied Marketing Science (AMS) Senior Manager Patty Yanes answers a few questions related to designing complex surveys.

Why think about survey design?

I recently had a client change a survey question simply because the question went on to two lines.  His reasoning – the simpler the better for respondents.  I couldn’t help but think that in many ways, he’s right.  You want your respondents to have a good survey-taking experience in order to get the most accurate and reliable information out of them.  However, the more I looked at the question we were discussing, the more I realized that fewer words did not mean simpler and by shortening the question, we really lost the meaning.

Survey design seems like a simple topic.  You just ask some questions, get some data, and analyze it. Unfortunately, in so many cases, this just doesn’t work.  Sometimes you have difficult respondents to screen for, sometimes the problem at hand requires a complex design and analysis, and sometimes, to remain unbiased, the survey needs to take on a complex structure.  In these circumstances, you have to spend more time and energy making sure the survey is designed correctly before you can get to the data and analysis.

What’s the most important thing to get right when designing a complex survey?

It’s all important, but the first thing you must do is define the problem.  The worst thing that can happen is you field the survey, spending money on respondents and incentives, and get data back that doesn’t actually answer the questions you have.  Start with the problem and think about what answer you can get that will be most useful and actionable.  Then write the survey around that problem rather than forcing the data on the backend to answer your question.

Are there any tips and tricks to help get it right?

In good survey research, there are a number of do’s and don’t’s.  To hear all the tips and tricks from the experts, watch our webinar on demand, What you really need to know about complex survey design where AMS Senior Manager Patty Yanes discusses best practices for designing and fielding surveys.

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