Tips for keeping quant relevant

Survey Writing 101

Clients often tell us that their quant surveys have been neglected over the last few years, left behind in the wake of research innovations focusing on online qual, or technologies like text analytics or facial coding. As a result, they’re still asking survey questions in the same way they did 10 or 15 years ago, even if the mode has switched from off- to online.

With a bit of creativity – and using a wider frame for thinking than just quant research – it’s easy to ask better survey questions. Here are some principles to think about for your next survey, or to refresh your existing tracker.


We’re competing for consumers’ time in a world of short attention spans and no shortage of interesting and engaging things to do online. ‘Interesting and engaging’ does not include filling out long, dull surveys full of grids. Make your surveys short, optimised for mobile, and fun to use.


Take inspiration from the apps people use. Our swipe tool takes a cue from Tinder: people swipe their answers right or left. This tool also reflects the fact that people don’t think in five-point scales (who’d have thought?!) but in binary terms (yes/no, like/dislike), so not only is this tool familiar – at least to a generation of Tinder users – it also accounts for the psychology of how people really think.


Rather than being a staple of quant surveys, we should rely on scales less, and employ them creatively. A TripAdvisor-style review tool is a more engaging way of asking for a rating. Its format is familiar and it encourages people to think like a reviewer rather than a research participant. Our split sample tests have shown that this generates significantly better open responses, as people are willing to spend longer on it. The boring old ‘why did you give that rating?’ question has had its day.


‘Anchoring’ is a cognitive bias whereby we tend to focus on the first piece of information we’re given when making decisions. We’ve found that specifying a character limit in open questions, Twitter-style, means people typically write more (up to 33% more) than in a standard open question. It might seem counter-intuitive, but adding a limit actually generates more insight.


Take a cue from quallies and use projective techniques in online quant. Ask consumers to imagine they’re writing an email to the Marketing Director, using deprivation techniques or messenger-style tools. We know how powerful it is in qual when consumers imagine they’re having a conversation with a friend looking for advice about a product category, or with a pharmacist about a product they should take, so why not emulate this in a survey environment?


Give your surveys a power-up by bringing offline techniques online. Survey-based text highlighters can dissect and quantify the best or confusing parts of written concepts just as well as a paper-and-highlighter approach in a focus group; brand maps can help to plot where your brand sits vs competitors on two dimensions; and virtual heatmaps for shelf testing are another tool you should have in your online kit.


While some of these techniques are certainly more qual-focused, they can still be used at scale. But ultimately, the question shouldn’t be about qual or quant, it should be about insight. We need to expand the frame of reference from ‘quant’ and ‘scales’ (and, often, ‘boring’) to ‘what’s the best and most engaging way of generating this information?’

If we want to uncover real insight and engage consumers in research, it means rethinking the whole survey experience, including the format and the way we ask questions. There’s plenty of room for innovation in survey research; we just need to apply a bit of creative thinking to keep surveys a relevant – and insightful – part of the toolkit. •

By Karen Schofield, Managing Director, Join the Dots Singapore