Survey Programming? Piece of Cake!

26.07.2018 |

Episode #4 of the course How to conduct a market research survey by Nick Freiling


Yesterday, we discussed what to look for in a survey platform. Now it’s time to program!

No one has programmed more surveys than me.

Well, I can’t prove that. But I’d bet I’ve programmed more surveys than probably 99% of people—certainly more than anyone else I’ve met.

That said, I still can’t program a research survey for someone unless I know details about their product and what exactly they’re trying to accomplish. But I can offer specific guidelines for how to program your survey, based on your unique research goals. Here are general but hard-and-fast rules about how to program your survey instrument into an online platform.


Question Types

A rule of thumb is to stick to radio buttons and checkboxes as much as possible. This is especially true if your survey audience will be global. While survey platforms do a pretty good job explaining how question types function, language and cultural barriers can make certain question types—like rank-order, sliding scales, and emoji-based scales—problematic.

Another rule of thumb is to use scales wherever possible. For example, say that your product idea is a photo editing app, and you only want to survey people who use their phone camera. You can ask a yes-or-no question, “Do you use your phone camera?”, to filter out those who don’t fit in your market, but that leaves you without an understanding of just how avidly your respondents use their phone camera and (ultimately) whether avidness correlates with interest in your product. A better way to ask would be, “How often do you use your phone camera?” Then present five possible answers (i.e., a scale): never, a few times a year, a few times per month, a few times per week, and every day.

One more rule of thumb is to avoid open-ended questions as much as possible. For better or worse, your survey audience is going to speed through your survey. People are busy, and while they’re happy to give you their opinion, they don’t want it to be a hassle. So, use open-ended questions sparingly. Try to keep them pointed and specific—more like, “Why do you dislike this product idea?” and less like, “What are your thoughts about this product idea?”


Required Questions

A good survey platform should let you choose whether respondents should be required to answer given questions. Getting this right is extremely important. The worst thing that can happen is for you to have 500 people take your survey, only to find that many of them skipped the most important questions.

Typically, all questions should be required except for ones that ask for identifying personal information. In general, there’s no reason to let someone skip parts of your survey.


Branching and Logic

This can get complicated, but it’s more than worth the effort!

Branching and logic are how you funnel your survey respondents to different parts of your survey, based on how they answer previous questions. For example, say your product has two different versions—one for males, one for females. Branching allows you to send males to a different set of questions than females, so you can ask questions that are specific to only their versions of the product.

Every platform works differently, but logic is always based on answers to specific questions. If you want one group (say, Android users) to see different questions than another (say, iPhone users), you need to define those groups in a survey question (like, “What kind of phone do you use?”) before those two different question sets appear.

Lastly, make sure to disqualify people that don’t fit your target market criteria whatsoever. While you want to leave the door open to discover new markets and new ideas, you don’t want to deal with answers from people who definitely will not be interested in your product.

For example, if your product idea is a push-up bra, it’s probably a good idea to disqualify males from the survey. So, be sure to ask about gender at the very beginning of your survey, then use your platform’s survey logic to disqualify those who aren’t female.

Next, we’ll learn how to get your survey in front of the right people. It’s easier than you think!


Recommended book

The Survey Playbook: Volume 1: How to create the perfect survey by Matthew V. Champagne Ph.D.


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