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Collecting Useful Survey Data

What do you want to know?

Before you begin to compose your survey questions, you MUST take the time to really understand the purpose of your survey, and you need to keep this purpose in mind every step of the way. Ask yourself what it is you want to learn from the survey. The data from your survey could prove useless if you do not put some upfront thought into what you want to get out of your survey. Imagine spending time creating a survey and collecting numerous responses only to realize that you did not get the information you really wanted. Consider following these steps:

  1. Is there already an existing survey template that has statistically validated and proven survey questions? For example if you are conducting an employee satisfaction survey, there are many existing questionnaires out there. Use one of these rather than re-inventing a less perfect wheel. We have provided a sample employee survey template as an example.

  2. Think about how you will use the data that you collect. Mentally walk through the steps you will take once the data have been collected. What do you expect to learn? How do you plan to apply what you learn? What are your goals and how will the survey help you reach those goals? By working backwards from the outcome you are aiming for, you can identify the kinds of questions that you need to ask in your survey.

  3. In most situations, it is important to involve others when determining what the purpose of your survey is. Identify which people in your organization should have input on what kind of information should be learned from the survey. Have meetings with them, either one-on-one or as a group to hear their ideas.

  4. Once you know what you want to learn at a conceptual level, it is time to dig a little deeper. Ask people what issues relate to each topical area of your survey. Don't forget to ask both the people from step #1 above as well as the people who are dealing with these issues on a daily basis. The people in the trenches often know best what is broken and they can raise areas of concern that you might not otherwise be aware of.

  5. Construct an outline of the issues and details that you collected in steps #1 and #2. Step back and ask yourself whether it all fits together and whether anything might be missing. Once you are satisfied with your outline, you are ready to begin writing your survey items.