Survey Best Practices

Survey Best Practices

StockSnap_CZSB4NOMYB_WomanLooking_SurveyBestPractices_BPThis blog post will discuss best practices when creating, monitoring, and reviewing a survey, either an internal survey to employees of your company, or to customers of your organization or to students at your institution, where the information will be used internally. Or it could be a survey where the results will be sent to external agencies such as a state or federal government. There are many types of survey methods such as online webform, paper questionnaire, verbal interviews, or via email survey tools. There are many pieces to doing a successful survey. There are many challenges when doing internal and external surveys including poor documentation and clear lack of purpose. By instituting survey best practices, the proposed surveys will be more beneficial to the organization.

First, you need to do some high-level best practices in the creation of the survey including:

  • Decide where your documentation about the survey will reside. Your data governance solution, like the Data Cookbook, is the logical place. The survey documentation should be in an accessible knowledge base so that it can be viewed by the appropriate individuals and used in future surveys
  • Discuss, agree, and document the description and purpose of the survey (start with why)
  • Discuss, agree, and document who is receiving and submitting the survey, (new students, person who submitted IT ticket, customer who purchased a product, client who had a services project closed out, feedback after a conference, etc.)
  • Discuss, agree, and document who owns the survey (could be the same group that is receiving results, monitoring, and reviewing the survey)
  • Discuss, agree, and document who is receiving the survey results and monitoring the survey
  • Discuss, agree, and document who is reviewing the survey
  • Discuss, agree, and document the schedule for the survey - when sent, time frame for receipt, such as a person has 2 weeks to respond, and time after survey for review and summation
  • Discuss, agree, and document the frequency of survey (is this a quarterly survey, done after every conference, or done after every project completion, etc.)
  • Discuss, agree, and document what tool is going to be used for the survey – your organization probably has a survey tool already selected (such as SurveyMonkey). But if not, a tool will need to be selected. Make sure that tool is documented in your technology tool inventory and that the owner of this tool is clearly defined. Or maybe you need to contract with an outside company to conduct a phone survey
  • Discuss, agree, and document the time context for summary data
  • Discuss, agree and document the population and selection criteria if raw/unit data
  • Discuss, agree and document how the survey result information will be used and who it will be distributed to
  • Discuss, agree, and document any survey incentives for people when they respond to the survey. If there is a cost to the incentive, such as a gift card, make sure that this cost is in the budget.  And know who is responsible for getting the incentive item and who is responsible for shipping the incentive item
  • Discuss, agree, and document privacy and information security details – where will information be stored, can this information be shared with others and if this information needs to be destroyed at a certain time
  • Discuss, agree, and document the survey submission process (the survey is the target) including the necessary approvals
  • Discuss, agree, and document who is handling email bounces and undelivered emails. You want to keep your database as up to date as possible
  • Discuss, agree, and document the survey receiving process (the survey is the source) including the mapping from the survey to reporting system data as well as the building of reports and analysis against the survey data

As you can see, a survey should be well documented and the better the documentation is in the beginning the better the survey will be executed and used.

Second, after the high-level information is documented, you need to get down to the details of the survey creation and define the data on the survey. Again this should work with your data governance solution, like the Data Cookbook. Make a list of the data elements on the survey and document the following:

  • Name and label of data element
  • Question text – make sure that the text is clear and concise and keep the survey as short as simple as possible that will accomplish the goals and objectives of the survey
  • Definition of data element (should be located in the data governance knowledge base)
  • Quality attributes for data element – such as required (yes/no), format (date, number, text, etc.), range (A-E, next ten years, etc.) or even more complex rules such as if “Yes” answered then another field needs to be entered

Third, execute the survey and do the following:

  • Test the survey – check for misspellings and confusing wording. Send the test survey to someone that was not involved in the creation of the survey
  • Let the people taking the survey know the following:
    • If possible, that the survey will be coming to them in the near future and your expectation about their responding to the survey
    • How long the survey takes to do
    • Any incentives that they will get for doing the survey
    • Privacy of their answers
    • Your thanks for doing the survey
  • Send reminders as people are not always available to do the survey the 1st time that it is sent or asked for

Fourth, once you have documented the survey and now executing the survey, it needs to be monitored:

  • Make sure that a person is assigned to monitor the results of the survey as they come in. If there is an issue with the survey, you want to rectify the problem as soon as possible.

Fifth, once the survey is completed (all the results are in) or on a regular basis (such as monthly, quarterly, or yearly) for a survey that occurs over time, make sure that you do the following in presenting survey results:

  • Get the survey results into the proper format for submission when due (don't be late)
  • If the results are going to be in a report or dashboard format then be sure that they are documented (report specification). Place this documentation in the data governance knowledge base so that anyone with questions about the report or dashboard can view the information
  • Document any feedback from the survey or issues with doing the survey so that future surveys can be improved and easier to do

As you can tell, much of the survey best practices occur before the survey is sent out. The documentation for the survey needs to be complete and accessible. The more work done on the front end will provide for a more successful survey. And it is very likely that you will replicate this survey in the future so the effort you put into this current survey will make future surveys easier and more beneficial to the organization. Hope you found these best practices beneficial.  If you want additional information on data governance, please check out our data governance and data intelligence resources page (blog posts, recorded webinars, and videos).

Additional resources related to surveys can be found here.

IData has a solution, the Data Cookbook, that can aid the employees and the organization in its data governance, data intelligence, data stewardship and data quality initiatives. IData also has experts that can assist with data governance, reporting, integration, and other technology services on an as needed basis. Feel free to contact us and let us know how we can assist.

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Photo Credit: StockSnap_CZSB4NOMYB_WomanLooking_SurveyBestPractices_BP #B1239

Jim Walery
About the Author

Jim Walery is a marketing professional who has been providing marketing services to technology companies for over 20 years and specifically those in higher education since 2010. Jim assists in getting the word out about the community via a variety of channels. Jim is knowledgeable in social media, blogging, collateral creation and website content. He is Inbound Marketing certified by HubSpot. Jim holds a B.A. from University of California, Irvine and a M.A. from Webster University. Jim can be reached at jwalery[at]

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