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Conducting Market Research Surveys

Mind If I Ask You a Question?

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Conducting Market Research Surveys

Doing a Survey? I Can't Say Enough About Rapport

Karen Barefoot, photographer, stock.xchng Copyright July 30, 2007

Surveys are one of the most common market research tools. Most surveys emphasize either a qualitative or a qualitative design, but both approaches can be used in a single survey. Access a concise discussion of the differences between qualitative and quantitative research here Choosing Between Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods.

Howdy, Ma'am. Could I Have a Minute of Your Time?

At the most basic level, quantitative surveys are designed to take hard, numerical measures of responses to a research question, such as frequency, magnitude, and direction of change. Quantitative research methods are, of necessity, somewhat rigid. The questions asked of survey respondents must stay the same from person to person, day-to-day, and so on. Any changes to the research script used by the interviewers, or the written questionnaire, or the survey processes could result in data that is not a true measurement of the research question or data that cannot be statistically analyzed.

Qualitative surveys explore the softer measures of research, such as "opinions" that are expressed in an open-ended fashion or the "why or why not" reasons people have for their responses to quantitative questions that do not ask for a reason or rationale.

Interviewers play a particularly important role in qualitative survey research that is administered in person or over the telephone. The way that questions are phrased, the intonation of spoken questions, and the rapport between the respondent and the interviewer can have an important impact on data quality and direction. For surveys covering complex subjects, it is critical that the interviewer understand the topic well in order to ask in-depth questions and probe effectively if respondents develop a reluctance to provide quality answers.

What Do You Mean by That Question?

The quality of the data that a researcher obtains from a survey is, to a large degree, dependent upon the skillful construction and wording of the questions posed. Survey questions must be clear, fairly easy to answer, and relatively short. Here are some general guidelines for constructing survey questions.

  • Avoid ambiguous words
  • Omit easily misinterpreted words
  • Ask only one question at a time
  • Ensure questions do not "lead" respondents
  • Restrict questions to the research topic
  • Pilot questions before going live

Written or online questionnaires can generally be slightly more complex than face-to-face surveys where all information is exchanged orally. This is particularly true if respondents can easily refer back to earlier questions or navigate an online survey site without losing previous responses. As a general rule, survey respondents resent being asked questions that are deliberately designed to elicit a certain answer from them. Be sure that the questionnaires used for market research cannot be interpreted by respondents to be a sales pitch.

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