8 Tips for Designing a Good Survey

From time to time we get questions about the keys to designing good surveys. How to make a map questionnaire that attracts as many respondents as possible and is easy to understand? In short, the principles are not much different from creating any type of questionnaire. A good survey is easy to read, there are few chances for misinterpretation, answering is made easy, the respondent is informed how long completing it will take, and the quality of the gathered data is high.

Take a look at these tips we compiled to help you succeed in creating effective map questionnaires.

1. Keep your questions clear and simple

One of the most important things is to minimize the risk for misunderstandings. Pay extra attention when formulating your questions. A very common mistake is to ask many things within one question: “Are the houses beautiful and their surroundings well-maintained?”. Also, avoid questions that can be understood in many ways, such as: “Where do you typically come to this area from?” In this case respondents might wonder if you mean the place their trip originates from (work or home), which entry point they use, or which route they use.

2. Avoid complicated language

Imagine yourself in the shoes of the people you want to reach when drafting your questions. The target groups in public participation are often diverse, so it is better to avoid too professional language. If it’s necessary to use an important term people might not be familiar with, it is wise to define it in the questionnaire.

3. Include instructions on how to answer

Respondents may sometimes face technical issues, especially with map-based questions. It’s a good idea to add instructions on how to use the tool. Also, consider the phrasing of your instructions: instead of using rather technical terms such as “point”, “line” and “polygon”, you could use “place”, “route”, and “area” to better describe what you wish the respondents to answer.

4. Motivate respondents to participate

It is beneficial to provide the respondents a motivation to participate. This can be done by explaining your goals and why it’s important that they answer. For example, include information about your project and how the gathered data will be utilized on the front page of the questionnaire. You can also organize a prize draw among respondents to nudge people to answer.

5. Apply a clear structure

Try to keep your questionnaire compact and its structure clear. Guide respondents through the questionnaire using titles and small captions. Keep them informed about how they are proceeding by adding page numbers on questionnaire pages. Question-wise, it is good to start with easier ones to make respondents feel more comfortable and move on to more complicated questions later on.

6. Go easy with obligatory questions

Obligatory questions can be used to force respondents to answer important questions. Setting too many of them can, however, feel annoying. To the degree that some respondents even leave the questionnaire without finishing it. Instead of forcing people to answer, in most cases you can get the same result by having questions sound important and look appealing to answer.

7. Think about the analysis already when formulating questions

The responses you receive will eventually need to be analyzed, so it’s good to think of that process already in advance. Open questions are often burdensome to analyze. You might not want to add too many of them, especially if you expect to get a lot of responses. However, if your goal is to gather a more qualitative dataset, you can try coupling multiple choice questions with additional questions. This way you would still get deep insights but in a more structured way.

If you want to make classifications, for example, based respondent age groups, it’s easier to have respondents choose which age group they belong to rather than ask for their age individually with an open number field. Also, asking many questions with one open field might get messy. For example, it’s a good idea to ask for people’s email, address and phone number with separate fields than with just a single question: “Please write your email, address and phone number in the box”.

8. Have someone test your questionnaire before publishing

We tend to get blind to the text we write. It’s smart to ask someone to browse through and test your questionnaire before publishing it. They will be helpful in spotting any spelling mistakes and seeing if your questions are understandable. What’s more, you get a chance to see if the response data looks correct.

Our customers create inspirational questionnaires with Maptionnaire every day. You can check for some great examples at our customer stories page. Send me an email at kirsi.forss@mapita.fi if you'd like to learn about more specific examples. If you haven't used Maptionnaire yet, go ahead and register. I hope my tips are helpful!