Web Survey Best Practices
Avoid over surveying
Over the past few years, we have been experiencing decreasing response rates. This trend is consistent with what we observe elsewhere, however, if response rates keep on falling, all our surveying efforts will become fruitless. Therefore, before you design a survey, check the Web Survey Schedule for:
- surveys currently underway that target your audience
- recent or on-going surveys that might already contain the information you require
- the best time to launch your survey
The Office of Institutional Research and Planning will help find the best time to run your survey.
Keep your focus
Define the objective of your survey and the specific information that you need to gather. Design questions so that you get a precise answer. Avoid asking for information that you are not likely to use, or can get from another source. Avoid jargon or obscure terms respondents may not understand.
Minimize completion time
People tend not to participate in surveys that take more than 15 minutes to complete. Make an effort to keep your survey short and ensure that you do not include any repetitive questions. If you must have a long survey, take the time to consider whether it would be better to launch two separate surveys with different objectives.
Describe in your invitation how the information will be valuable to them and to others. Demonstrate to respondents that their answers matter. Publicize your results and any actions that may arise from them. This will encourage people to continue participating in further surveys.
A shorter URL (or web address) for inviting your participants is highly recommended.
- can easily be typed by hand (useful for paper-based invitations)
- can fit on one line in an email invitation
- easy to remember for later
- can start with your own website's URL or domain name
- used to display a special page when the survey is over
- used to display a page if there is a problem with the survey, saying when the survey is expected to be back in production
It is also recommended that you make two redirect URLs, one for each language.
e.g. for French: http://www.arts.uottawa.ca/sondage
and for English: http://www.arts.uottawa.ca/survey
Develop first in one language, then translate
Changes may occur to your questions, choices and your survey's structure when they are coded into an online survey format, which will require changes to the translation as well.
- Write the survey in the first language, programming in all the logical skips and validation as required. This is required by the online survey software.
- Click the language selector button to begin editing the questions and answers for the second language. The first language text is automatically copied over to make editing easier.
Be sure to review the questionnaire thoroughly for language consistency.
Hide the language choice question
When coding a bilingual survey, you need to start your questionnaire with the "LANG" question. Respondants, however, don't need to see this question if you use seperate redirection URLs for each language (see redirection URLs above)
To ensure that respondents bypass the language selection page, and hence start the survey directly in their preferred language (already selected by going to one of the two URLs), simply make the "LANG" question hidden:
- add a skip to "+1" if "1"
- WSTC will provide you with a URL that will automatically select the user's interface language and questionnaire language, which will also modify the value of the hidden LANG question.
Test, test and then, test again
Ask someone to answer the survey beforehand. This will show you if there are any unclear or repetitive questions or confusing instructions. Once the survey has been set up on-line, test it again for ease of use and adequate structure (for example, are the skips working properly?)
Do some reading
You may want to read a bit more about survey best practices and design:
- Jakob Nielsen’s “Keep Online Surveys Short” Alertbox article
- BitPipe’s whitepaper “How to Develop Online Surveys That Work” has a clear overview of surveying practices
- Quirk's Marketing Research Review “Best practices for online survey research”
- Using On-line Surveys" Martin Redfern - uOttawa seminar PowerPoint presentation .