Pre-Planning for a Survey

Pre-Planning for a Survey

Once you have decided on conducting a survey – whether it is for customer feedback, employee evaluations, market survey, planning an event or anything else – you have to make sure you have a lot of other things in place before you start getting the questionnaire in place.

The more you plan your survey in advance –

– the smoother the entire survey will be

– and the better you will be able to handle roadblocks, should you encounter them.

Basically, planning will go a long way in keeping you away from frustrations at the end of all your hard work. You don’t really want to be in a state where the answers to your survey are rendered unusable. This could be because they don’t give you any real information or leave little room for meaningful analysis. Effort you spent to get some important decisions inadvertently become wasted efforts because the prerequisite homework they needed before hand wasn’t thorough.

Here is a quick step-by-step guide to what you need to know/have before you go about setting up your questionnaire.

Be sure. Evaluate the need, yet again.

Even before you start, once again convince yourself that you really need the survey. While online surveys are cheap and easy to set-up, you do end up spending resources in terms of time and effort to create a survey that will give you useful and analyzable information. Try to gauge:

– if the survey will result in reducing uncertainty. Many a times you have a decision in mind but you are unsure about it. To make sure that you don’t head in the wrong direction you conduct the survey. Make an estimate of how much of this uncertainty will reduce by having the survey.

– if the survey can be as foolproof as possible. Sometimes survey results can be misleading. The results could make you take a decision that backfires. These mistakes come with a cost. What would be the cost of such a mistake for you? What is the probability of this happening? And is it worth it?

Be clear. Ask existential questions, now.

-Why are we conducting this survey?

-What kind of results are we hoping for? If we have pre-determined results in mind, can we be wary of creating a biased questionnaire?

-What are the aims and objectives of this survey?

-What is the ultimate survey goal?

Answer these questions and write the answers down. Are they crystal clear? Will anyone who is not associated with the survey be able to understand the aims and objectives as you mean them?

This exercise will lead to a clarity. After this, you need to resolve that everything you do with your survey is guided towards only one aim – maintaining that clarity.

Be wary. Realise the role of bias.

You surely want to have an inkling of what result you want from the survey. However, be wary of the pitfalls. You don’t want to arrive at a pre-concluded result. You can and should have a hypothesis which you are trying to prove. But you should also be equally ready for the said hypothesis to be disproved.

Your hypothesis should not lead to leading questions. You want truthful answers, not misguided affirmation. The questions should make the survey-taker comfortable about answering what they feel rather than getting them to answer what you feel they ought to feel.

Even so, you want to write a clear hypothesis. The hypothesis you are okay with being wrong about. Because either case will lead you to a useful decision. Else you will be stuck with data that proves you right, but will have you take a wrong, maybe expensive decision that you will regret later.

Be focused. Define target audience.

Just because online surveys are easy and cheap, you don’t want an irrelevant part of the audience taking your survey. This will either

– skew your results or

– unnecessarily give the impression of a big sample size (more on this later.)

In fact, you might want to consider using the ease and cost-effectiveness of online surveys to your advantage. Have different surveys for the different target audience.

For example, children books might need different survey for kids and a different one for parents who will make the actual purchase. Or climate related surveys might have to be differently worded for people who live in warm areas as compared to the cold ones. And so on.

Be reasonable. Balance the sample size.

The bigger the better. Sample size is that portion from your target population that you will actually end up surveying with. Surveying the entire target population will surely be an overkill in terms of time, effort and cost. However, you don’t want a sample size that is so small that it makes the survey more or less pointless.

Be considerate. Time the survey well.

When you should send your survey out? And How long should it be out there for responses?

– are two most important questions.

The timing of the survey holds a lot more weight than we would think. Studies have shown that people answer questions about work differently on Mondays and Fridays. There is an indication that surveys taken in the morning might be different from those taken in the evening and so on. And of course there are seasonal implications too.

Be experimental. Consider various platform for surveys.

Is your survey going to be sent via snail mail, newsletter, e-mail, web-link on social media or some other medium? Try out different platforms, measure and compare the response rate and quality of responses with different platforms. You will eventually find out that one method works better for you than others. However, don’t stick to that one forever, every once in a while try out all viable platforms once again to know if things have changed.

Having considered all these points, you are now ready to set-up your actual questions. This will actually start with some more soul-searching because the first step will be to research your topic. This is important to get fruitful responses which lead to intelligent decisions.

Meeta is a Chartered Accountant and an MBA but she’d rather not keep books or run a business. She deployed her analytical skills to reviewing movies instead and reviews movies at She's also trying her hand at short stories and poetry at

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