Steps to a successful survey

Test your topic extensively before beginning the survey. Consider testing to be a required part of your research. Run your choice of topics by clients, your associates, industry executives, and academics. Specifically ask them if they think that the topic needs to be surveyed. Would it be valuable for the industry or would it be unnecessary or redundant? If you learn that the topic has been surveyed, find out when and by whom, and study the results. Get copies of prior surveys to distinguish them from the project you propose. Ask someone objective to review questions to be sure they are unbiased.

During testing, ask your contacts to suggest any unique angles or approaches. If the people who help in your test have diverse backgrounds, they should come at the issue from different perspectives. This could flesh out the topic, which would make your survey even more valuable.

Identify your business and marketing objectives and clarify who will constitute your target audience for the final report. For example, is your target for a project on HMOs the chief executive officers, chief operating officers, chief financial officers, prospective investors, or possible management teams? When you've identified the audience, ask whether your information will be compelling to them.

Decide which outcomes you hope to achieve. Are you looking for visibility, to generate business leads, build new relationships, or any combination thereof? What contributions do you expect your survey to make and to whom?

Follow these rules in developing your survey questions:

Keep questions short. ^ Make all questions clear, simple, and quickly answerable. Try to give respondents a straight line through the survey.

^ Every question should be fully understandable at a single reading.

^ Eliminate any words or language that readers cannot immediately understand.

Test the clarity of your questions on people who are not involved in the target industry.

Decide how to distribute the survey—via hardcopy, Internet, or telephone. Ask permission to contact respondents with in-person, follow-up questions. Clearly state the deadline for submitting the completed survey.

It is often helpful to convene panels of respondents in a live setting, who complete the survey while discussing the issues it raises. The input from the panel can add texture to the findings, and the meeting can provide introductions to potential clients.

Before writing your survey questions, develop a working hypothesis that states what you want to test with the survey. For example, you may hypothesize that the HMO industry is lagging behind academic medical centers in an important business process. After you

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