Advances in internet surveys and questionnaires

In market research, questionnaire design on April 3, 2013 by sdobney

It’s fair to say that most of the online surveys and questionnaires that are found on the web are still deeply fixed in the form and structure of a paper-based questionnaire, essentially just a translation of what would be done on paper onto screen. There are advances from being computer-aided, like automatic routing and error checking, but by and large the style of most questions is like it would be on paper (though there are still relatively amateur all the questions on one page versions around). This paper-basis doesn’t have to be the case online. We can ask questions, or find things out in different ways and design surveys in ways that are more natural than the straight linear paper version, or that allow for assistance, or for group working for instance.

The bulk of a questionnaire comes through three or four different question formats – single, multiple, text and numeric. These are easy to translate from paper to the screen. But screen-based surveys enables different types of questions to be asked. For instance ranking, timed questions, fly-questions where supplementary questions are displayed if something is clicked on, hot-spot or lassoing, and questions where things move or respond to different types of user interaction. For areas like conjoint analysis and choice research, we have the ability to create choice-exercises which are much more real – for instance closer to shopping sites with options that can be sorted, filtered or probbed for more detail. We can also collect additional data, such as the order in which things are selected, the dwell time or reaction time to a stimulus.

The results can also be aggregated and shared enabling consumers and respondents to comment on other people’s answers, or review an answer they’ve already given based on something we might have shown them, or to see the evolution of a more refined answer over time by inviting respondents back to revisit questions and information and showing them what other people have thought.

In fact, we can also do this encouraging collaborative survey taking. At it’s simplest level we can involve an interviewer on the phone and a questionnaire/prompt material on-screen. The questions can be customised and shown to the respondent (eg a fully customised conjoint or configurator type question), while the interviewer on the phone gathers more colour and detail from the respondent. But this could also be several people working together to ‘solve’ a question – giving input that exposes the decision making process, while also answering the questions.

It’s not all plain sailing though. More advanced questions and tools face challenges working across different browsers and platforms. Solutions which use Flash may not work on iPads or Macs. And answers that need drag and drop are more cumbersome on tablets where click-to-action works better.

But as surveys become another means of communication between a company and its customers or potential customers, it should also be clear that customers will judge the company on the style and quality of the questionnaire much as they would do for any other form of communication.


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