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OK. So I have to do a Needs Survey. How do I write the questions?

In the last post on needs assessments, Why Should I Have to Run a Needs Survey?, we talked about why you should run the needs assessment.  In this post we will talk about how to prepare for that assessment.  Needs Survey QuestionsConstant Contact has several suggestions about writing survey questions.  Use the following list as your guide to help avoid these possible pitfalls.

  1. Write questions that are simple and to the point. …
  2. Use words with clear meanings. …
  3. Limit the number of ranking options. …
  4. In a multiple choice question, cover all options without overlapping. …
  5. Avoid double-barreled questions.
  6. Offer an “out” for questions that don’t apply.
  7. Avoid offering too few or too many options.
  8. Make recall easy.

Constant Contact has given some good ideas about how to prepare for a survey.  But let’s take those ideas and apply them specifically to a needs survey.  Remember that the needs survey is intended to discover information that will be used to make business decisions.  We’ve all had a teacher at some point in our education who wrote “gotcha” test questions.  A “gotcha” test question is one that asks for information you would only know if you memorized every procedure manual written.  That is OK for a lawyer’s bar exam but not it’s what you’re writing here.  The questions that you should write for your survey should be easily understood, limited in the topic it’s asking about and have clear choices for responses.

The first of those is easily understood.

Every job has some jargon has some acronyms have some special speak associated with.  But even more.  Each division within the company may have certain acronyms or chart.  As you were writing your test questions try to eliminate any of those acronyms those alphabet soup say that jargon whose specific terms that only a few people would know.  Member this is a type chance, be sure how much you know, it is an opportunity for her.  Survey participants to show how much they need to learn about this particular topic.

The second of our short list talks about limiting the topic of each question.

Using our example needs survey from the first post, ask participants about each software they use separately.  Some people will use only one of the software programs you are asking about while other may use most or all of them.  Asking what software people need training on would be too broad of a topic and you won’t get good responses.  Asking which Microsoft Suite programs they use would be better but could still be improved.  Asking if they need training for Word, Excel, or Outlook is the best of these options.

Unless you are using an online responsive survey that determines the next set of questions based on their response, including all the tasks possible in each of the programs would probably be overkill and turn of the survey participants.  Read this last as – you will not get good information from your survey and have wasted everyone’s time.

The third of our choices is to have clear choices.

Whether you’re using a multiple choice question eight range of numbers question.  You should limit the options that your participants have to choose from.  If you give them too many options they will become confused and won’t know what to check.  Having a 15-point scale for ranges is generally excessive.  Range scales tend to run between three and five option depending upon what your goal is.  If your goal is to find out whether someone has no idea about a piece of software has some mighty war is an expert three options would be all you need.  Also make sure that there’s enough differentiation between the options that participants have a clear choice between choice A and B or between B and C.  Again, this goes back to the thought of not writing “gotcha” questions.  Finally, it is usually a good idea to provide an “out” such as N/A (not applicable) or “I don’t know” answer to your questions.  Not everyone will be able to answer all of your questions.

Of course are always exceptions to any guideline.  It may be important for you to tease out the differences or finer points of what is being surveyed.  If you chose to go against a guideline listed here, know why you made that choice and what the impact may be on your data.

The last thing to say about writing questions deals as much with analyzing data as with the question itself.

Whenever possible have an objective type questions.  Objective questions are ones that will be multiple-choice (A,B,C,D) or they will be ranking greatest to worst or most to least (Rate from 1 to 5).  The problem with writing short answer questions as they become much more difficult to quantify and analyze.  Unless you are hired to be a needs assessment survey pro, your job is probably not totally about analyzing data.  When you use objective questions you will be easier for you to crunch the numbers using a spreadsheet, a database program, or some other kind of data analysis software – and we’ll talk about later.  It isn’t bad to have one or two open-ended short answer questions to give participants a chance to provide more information, but tried to limit those just for your own sanity your own ability to analyze data.

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