The end goal of any survey is getting data that’s accurate and useful. While you might be tempted to start writing your survey right away, if the research foundation is not laid out well, you might not get the data you want for the insights you need. Here are six things you can do to optimize the research and make sure it’s done well.

#1 Start at the end

Starting with the end in mind ensures that you’re answering the questions you need answered. Before you write your survey questions, create an Analysis Plan. Figure out exactly what your charts, graphs, and tables would look like if your hypothesis were true. Fill it in, and actually write the words “fake data” overtop of the made up data. This allows you to understand who and what you’re going to measure.

Put everything into a presentation to your stakeholder group and ask “will this meet your needs?” This gives the team a chance to change things around before you even write your survey questions. Knowing exactly what data you need will not only get everyone on the same page, it will save you from having to redo the survey because you asked the wrong questions.

Everything in your questionnaire should have a purpose and every question should go back to getting that data to fill in your analysis report. It will also make it easier once you collect the data because you can just fill in those fake reports with the good data.

#2 Understand how you will cut the data

It’s essential to know exactly who the sub-targets are when you analyze the data. Will you be comparing buying habits of 18-24 year-old males to 18-24 year-old females? You need to understand who you want data for so you can interview the correct people.

#3 Know your respondents

It’s important to always keep your respondent in mind when You can actually tweak your questions to what they know and create a better respondent experience.

  • How interested will your survey respondents be in your survey topic?
  • How much do your respondents know about the subject of your survey before they begin?
  • How often are your respondents exposed to information about the topic of the survey?
  • How much behavioral experience do your respondents have with your survey topic?

#4 Reaching your target respondents

Now that you understand your respondents and how you will cut the data, make sure you have the ability to measure each group. Define what your target customer looks like and understand how many respondents meet your criteria in your survey audience.

When you compare your survey audience, do you have any potential biases in the survey group that may influence the outcome? Are there enough people who will take your survey so you can get quantitative results? If you can ensure you have a good representation of your target audience in the survey mix you’ll have enough responses that you’ll be able to say the data is representative of the real population.

#5 Sampling your population

Now that you know you can reach your target subgroups, you need to understand how many of them to ask for statistical confidence. To understand how the 18-24 year-old females differ from the 18-24 year-old males, you need to ask enough people in both groups to be confident that you are actually getting a summary of the group’s opinion instead of the individual’s opinion.

Qualtrics offers a sample size calculator to determine the number of people to ask in order to meet specified confidence requirements. That number can vary based on several factors, but usually you’ll need 300-400 respondents per subgroup to get 95% confidence in your data.

#6 Incentives

Before writing your survey, decide if you’ll be giving an incentive to participants for taking the survey. Incentives can allow you to ask for more information and expect better responses, but they also can be costly. The most common types of incentives are gift cards, extra services, and an entry into a drawing for a prize. Clearly communicate what the incentive is and how the respondent will receive it.

While taking this six-step approach demands more time before writing your survey, it will lead you to better data and insights you can have confidence in. Getting the right data is easier when you know exactly what you’re looking for.