Tools & Tips

Mobile Administration of Surveys – Key Principles #1 and #2


For mobile administration of surveys, the questionnaire needs to be as short as possible. The fundamental principle #1 for making questionnaires short has been around for a long time; it just takes a heck of a lot of training and discipline to pull it off. It is organizing research to support decisions. Really doing this well is the key. What I find works best is to write down, in a declarative statement, the decision or decisions the research will support (e.g., We will decide which of three concepts to progress; We will decide which messages to use on the package). Make sure you write down decisions as declarative statements, and later, write down information needs as questions. This helps people distinguish between decisions and information needs.

After the decision(s) are written down as declarative statements, write down the information needed to make those decisions. Most decisions are made based on less than ten pieces of information. Try rank ordering the information needed. This helps get rid of the nice-to-know stuff. Note that all of this is done before you decide what type of study to do and well before you start writing questions.

Fundamental principle #2 is conduct qualitative research first. This actually stems from the first step, because when you write down the information needed for decision-making, some of the information needs are qualitative in nature. There is nothing longer and more torturous to a researcher like me than to see a questionnaire that is attempting to gather insights that only qualitative research can provide. Further, we need to do qualitative research before writing the questionnaire in order to know what to ask and how to ask it. Once the qualitative research is done, you are in a much better position to write a short questionnaire that makes sense to respondents.

I call the first two principles the first half of the golf swing. If you don’t get that right, all hope is lost, and I know from swinging a golf club! In my experience, I can reduce the length of surveys by at least 50 percent and get better information by using these first two principles.

Yet that is not enough. We have the second half of the golf swing. People drop out of surveys because the questions are unclear, confusing, difficult or impossible to answer. We need to make the questions clear, answerable, easy and unbiased. I will post more about these principles for mobile administration of surveys in the next two weeks.


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