Survey Success: Five Ways to Remove Barriers, Gain Insight!

Survey Success: Five Ways to Remove Barriers, Gain Insight!

You’ve decided what you want to learn about your program participants (or other shareholders). You have carefully refined what you will ask them and how you will ask it (if you are not there quite yet, check out Rayven’s tips). You have developed your participant survey! What next?

You may have great questions, but they are not worth very much until you get great answers (or any answers). If you want a lot of responses to your survey, you need to distribute the survey in ways that are accessible to all your desired respondents. Your survey distribution plan should center on making the survey as easy as possible for your participants to access and complete.

1. Provide Devices

Online surveys on platforms such Qualtrics, SurveyMonkey, Medallia, or Google Forms are quickly becoming the standard, largely due to the widespread use of smartphones. However, the use of smartphones is not universal. If that is the case among your desired respondents, consider providing additional devices, such as tablets or laptops, at a time and place where respondents can use them to respond to your survey (such as a program event).

2. Or Provide Paper Versions

If access to such devices is not feasible for your organization, consider providing paper copies of the survey to your desired respondents (and do not forget the writing utensils!). Whether you distribute your survey entirely online or solely via paper copies or some combination of both depends upon your respondents and the capacity of your team to record the data from paper surveys. Online surveys certainly save you a lot of data entry time, but this needs to be balanced with the need to include all potential respondents in survey distribution. 

3. Provide the Link

With online survey distribution, need to think of exactly how you are going to connect your respondents with the online survey. At its most basic level, your survey software platform will spit out an HTML link to your survey. However, that is only one of the tools you can use to distribute your survey! Although you certainly can just copy and paste that link into an email (or a flyer, or a text, etc.), there are a few ways to jazz it up.

The program that you used may allow you to create a shortened link. You can (and should) send that directly to respondents, so they can click on it directly. But if that is not an option, a short link is easier for participants to enter into their devices. If your software platform does not provide that option, you can use to do the same thing.

In addition to creating a shorter link, you should also seriously consider using a QR code, also using your software platform and/or If your target respondents are familiar with QR codes, this is an easier path for them to get to the survey. They may or may not be familiar with the technology, though, so I generally recommend providing both. If possible, have your team ready to assist participants with navigating to the correct link.

4. Offer an Incentive

The tips above primarily focus on survey distribution during an event where your team and your participants are both present (whether in-person or in a Zoom room). Distributing a survey and asking participants to complete the survey at that time is generally preferable to sending out a link and asking people to complete the survey on their own. That second scenario certainly decreases the chance that people will complete the survey. However, that may be the only option you have.

If that is the case, consider incentivizing people to complete the survey by offering a small reward. Think about this – how many times have companies begged you to complete their “quick customer satisfaction survey” by saying that if you do, you will be “entered for a chance to win (insert prize here)”? It may be annoying, but they do it because it works. If you want to do this, make sure that offering a reward or prize is allowable for your program.

5. Don’t Give Up

Using the tips above, your survey distribution plan should be thorough and if possible, include multiple ways for you to reach respondents and for respondents to complete the survey. If nothing else in this list works for you, I can tell you the real secret to getting a high survey response rate—perseverance! You may need to push a little bit to get responses. Once you get them, though, make sure your respondents benefit from their contribution by analyzing your results and using them to improve your program. It may not be the easiest task, but it can be one of the most valuable evaluation tasks you will ever do.

Contributed By Joanna Full

Joanna Full is an Associate Researcher for the Research, Evaluation & Dissemination Department at the Center for Educational Opportunity Programs. She currently manages the data collection processes and conducts the formative and summative evaluations of several of CEOP’s federally funded college access programs, including GEAR UP and Talent Search.

Follow @CEOPmedia on Twitter to learn more about how our Research, Evaluation, and Dissemination team leverages data and strategic dissemination to improve program outcomes while improving the visibility of college access programs.