When making plans to create and distribute your survey, here are five things to keep in mind.
Let's face it, if a respondent can't figure out in a few sentences what the objective of your survey is and how they can contribute, then they are less likely to respond. Being forthright in your cover letter/email and initial instructions as to why you are conducting the survey and how the results will be used is important.
It's subtle, but an important point that can easily be overlooked is how you appeal to the respondent to participate in your survey. The cover letter or email that accompanies with your survey questionnaire can have a big influence in response rates. Specifically, research indicates that it is a good idea to include a sentence or two specifically asking for the respondent's participation citing the importance of their helpful input in achieving the objectives of the survey (i.e., improving a product, process, work environment, etc.). Doing so appeals to the respondent's sense of being a helpful contributor when called upon to participate.
For surveys that are not compulsory for the respondent to complete, it's common sense that providing incentives generally results in better response rates. As a rule of thumb, research indicates that the larger the incentive, the larger the response rate. Consider offering a raffle drawing prize or perhaps an incentive for the first 50 respondents. Managing your incentives in this way also means that you don't have to spend a fortune on incentive rewards. Also, it is important for the respondent to actually believe that your survey is credible and that the incentive reward will actually be given. Providing instructions to the respondent that include an email address with your organization's email domain name (i.e., yourcompany.com) or some other means of contact (a phone number or mailing address) can often provide the necessary impression that your survey is legitimate.
Surveys that take less time to complete typically result in better response rates. Review the objectives of your survey and keep only those questions that are essential in achieving your objective. Including a statement in your cover letter or initial instructions that the survey should take, for example, no more than five minutes to complete can positively influence a respondent to participate. You will want to, of course, have several people take the survey before widely distributing it to make sure that your claim of five minutes is accurate.
It's a good idea to distribute your survey to a small set of people (preferably accessible colleagues or constituents) who actually complete the survey before you send it out to a broader audience. You can then follow-up with these respondents via a phone call or email asking them if their experience with the survey was difficult or confusing in any area. This provides an opportunity to collect feedback from actual respondents and make fine tuning adjustments to any confusing or hard parts in the survey. Sometimes rewriting a question or adding specific choices makes all the difference. This vetting process produces dividends because you can have a better confidence in your survey when you send it out to a broader set of respondents.
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