Tips for Writing Polls and Surveys

If you need to know what your clients really want, sometimes you just have to ask. Online polls and surveys are quick ways to collect market research for your business. However, getting useful feedback requires asking the right questions and providing a quick, convenient method for survey participants to submit data.

The odds of your online poll being scientific are about zero. But that doesn’t mean the answers aren’t very useful. Polls and surveys can help with a range of small business problems and questions including:

  • Evaluating customer satisfaction
  • Determining the need for your products or services
  • Determining the need to expand to additional locations
  • Analyzing interest in an existing or new product

Online Survey and Poll Question Types

writing online surveysShort Answer: Using a blank text box, allow respondents to provide their own answers to your survey question. Coupled with a well-written question, this is a great method for getting feedback without guiding answers.

Multi-Point Rating: Responses for this question style typically run from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree” with an additional opt-out response like, “N/A” or “Does Not Apply.”

Numeric Rating: Numeric ratings are most commonly set from 1-5 and are another way of determining how well your respondents like an aspect of your business. Note that using and odd-numbered scale allows respondents to take a neutral stance, while even numbered scales force clients to lean more to one side or another.

Multiple Choice: Let’s say you want to add a new type of muffin to your menu, but you only have the ability to make three different flavors. An open question survey wouldn’t help much. With multiple-choice questions, you can have respondents pick their favorite of the available choices.

Rank Choices:  Ranking available options gets survey takers to sort available options from good to bad or like to dislike. Looking to take a muffin away from the menu? Ranking surveys can help you find which flavor will be missed the least.

Survey and Poll Writing Tips

  1. Write simple questions. Muddled questions result in muddled feedback. So don’t ask a series of questions in a single poll prompt. Use everyday language and do your best to avoid ambiguous words and phrases.
  2. Don’t pigeonhole your respondents. When using written responses instead of a likability scale, provide several options that run the gamut and leave an “other” prompt for clients who wish to write their own response.
  3. Don’t force readers to answer every question. You should provide a way for respondents to opt out of a question—either by making all answers optional or by providing a “not applicable” selection on each question.  Forcing answers only leads to skewed results, and skewed results are a complete waste of time.

Free Survey Resources

In most cases free  surveys are limited in function. You might find that it’s necessary to purchase an upgrade for surveys that go beyond the basics. That said, here are some places to get started creating free online surveys.



[stextbox id="info"]This post is part of the March Word Carnival — a monthly group blogging event specifically for small business owners. (It’s the most fun you’ll have all month!) Check out the rest of the fabulous carney work here.[/stextbox]

About Emily Suess

Emily Suess is a technical marketing writer by day and a freelance copywriter by night. And, no, she's not related to Dr. Seuss.
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  • http://terrificwords.wordpress.com/ Terri

    This is something I’ve been thinking of doing for a while. However, I’m still trying to figure out what method would work best for me and my clients. The last thing I want to do is create a survey that will only be infuriating to them. You also never want to have a survey with to many questions. I was thinking perhaps no more than ten questions…

    • http://blog.emilysuess.com Emily Suess

      Good point, Terri! As a consumer, I hate taking surveys that require more than 3-5 minutes of my time. I say if you have more than ten questions to ask, split them up and offer two surveys — weeks or months apart. Or try to find a different way of getting the information entirely, maybe through researching data you have or just chatting with clients when you see them.

  • http://twitter.com/MelanieKissell Melanie Kissell

    Very enjoyable read, Emily!

    I’ll be honest.  I’m not a big fan of surveys (that is, when I receive too many of them, they take more than a couple of minutes to complete, every question requires an “essay” type answer, or the topic is something I have no interest in whatsoever)

    Having said that …

    When they’re short and sweet and I can clearly see the value in completing the survey, count me in! 

    And no matter how short the survey, I think it’s always a good idea and good business practice to reward people in some way for taking your survey.  Some small token of appreciation will almost guarantee they will complete the next survey/poll you send them.

    Thanks for listing some free survey resources.  Two of them are new to me so my curious nature will have me clicking over to scope them out.  :-)

    Fellow Carney,
    Mel

    • http://blog.emilysuess.com Emily Suess

      Absolutely! Rewarding people for their time is a GREAT idea, Mel. So glad you suggested it.

  • clarestweets

    Great ideas on how to do an effective survey. I especially like the point about allowing people to opt out. I know I have started doing surveys out of community and/or interest only to leave them when they keep serving up page after page of questions. I think five to 10 is the optimum number. 

  • http://www.IAmNickArmstrong.com/ Nick Armstrong

    Emily,

    Do surveys really work for your readers? I’ve never had a good response rate for them unless they have some sort of incentive. And that can often bias the results.

    I imagine the big first step is identify the primary thing you want to know about – and single your questions down to just that. I’ve always done my market research in other ways, from identifying my competitor’s most commonly commented blog posts to about anything else I could find to justify not sending out an email questionare :-D

    That’s my bias at work though. I’ll give your tips a try! Thanks! :-D

    • http://blog.emilysuess.com Emily Suess

      I had great success with a survey following Writers’ Week last September, Nick. It helped me assess how much interest there would be for future writing contests — both for advertisers and for entrants. Part of a successful survey is understand things from the respondent’s perspective. What are they just dying to tell you? What might they want more of? What do they hate? You’re right to be reluctant to send out surveys willy-nilly. If you don’t ask the right stuff, they’re just plain annoying.

  • Writingtrue

    I’ve purchased several things through Amazon, and never left feedback.

    Why?  Because I can’t just do it quickly;  Amazon forces a narrative.  My time is limited, and while quick feedback is fine, I only rarely take my own time to promote someone else’s business interests, and only when I’m a raving fan. 

    Toyota sends me long forms.  Like my tax forms, still sitting in a pile, blank.  Toyota’s form goes in the trash. 

    Colleges and publishers keep sending me 15-20 minute online surveys.  No thank you.  If I started my day just reading and thoroughly responding to mail and email, I’d get nothing productive even started until 3 p.m.

    Tim/Writer

  • http://www.thenumberswhisperer.com Nicole Fende

    Emily these are all great points.  Back in my corporate days I worked on market research with a third party firm for new product development.  What an eye opener!  How and what you ask makes such a difference in the credibility of the results.  I would specifically highlight your tip to leave an “other” or open comment section.  I find those responses to be useful and often unexpected.