Survey design tip: who’s your audience?

Courtesy pixabay

Courtesy pixabay


Each Monday for the past couple of Mondays, I’ve been focusing on tips to help you write better surveys. So far, we’ve covered the most important step to survey-writing (hint: it’s all about the focus); and some tips on writing unbiased questions. However, I realized that I missed a few steps between establishing your survey’s focus and writing questions after listening to Annie Pettit from Peanut Labs talk about how English as a second language speakers respond to surveys. So, let’s take a step back and cover the first of those steps: defining your audience.

*tap tap* Hello…is this thing on?

That’s exactly what it can feel like from both sides of the survey spectrum (survey designer and respondent) if you totally skip the step of defining your target survey audience.

What does it mean to define your target audience for a survey? If you have a business, or if you have done any marketing or advertising, it’s the same thing: who are you expecting to take your survey?

Here are some questions to ask:

  • What demographics matter? (age, gender, profession, etc.)
  • What media does my audience use?
  • How does my audience interact with me already? (especially for businesses wanting to do customer satisfaction surveys)
  • What terms do they use normally?
  • How much should they already know about my survey topic?
  • What is their native language?

Writing a survey for an undefined audience is like…throwing a full pot of pasta against the wall to check if any of it sticks. You don’t want to write a survey that doesn’t make sense to your participants, that they won’t understand, or with the idea that you will use particular data cleaning methods that end up removing too many valid responses.

Help me define…

Here are some ways to define an audience.

  • GenPop: general population. This is the broadest audience.
  • Current Customers: for any business of any size, your customer base.
  • Potential Customers: different from genpop because you likely aren’t trying to target everyone.
  • Voters: registered voters in your area
  • University students: anyone enrolled in a university (could also be narrowed more to students enrolled in particular programs; students enrolled full-time versus part-time; students enrolled in graduate programs)
  • Parents
  • Generational audiences such as Millenials (be sure the define this accurately, though, as there are many definitions of Millenials out there), GenX, GenZ, etc.

How do I know I’ve defined my audience well enough?

Your audience should come as a natural extension of defining the purpose of your survey. A good litmus test for knowing you’ve defined your audience well is that you’re able to easily explain it to a friend of colleague without them needing to ask a lot of clarification questions. For example, there might be a case where you want to measure satisfaction among current customers with your most recent product release. Already, you’ve defined your audience: current customers who have purchased the product in question.

Here’s another example: determining the marketing messaging that would best attract new customers. This starts identifying your audience, but needs more work, including clearly defining the characteristics of your target market. If I were explaining this to someone, I’d expect them to respond with the question, “Who is your ideal customer?” Now you can narrow down your definition to something like, “Women ages 18-40 who like to try the latest trends in fashion.”

I’ve defined them – now what?

As you know who your audience is for your study, you can use what you know about the audience to help you with the language you should use in your surveys. This should include items such as terminology used by your audience (do they refer to your product by its name or a shortened version of the name?), language used by the audience, the devices they are more likely to be using (mobile, desktop, both?), and what they likely already know about your survey (to help determine the extent to which you use pre-qualification questions to determine their eligibility for the study).

You can also use your knowledge of your audience to help you determine where to find them, how to invite them to participate in your study, and how much you’ll need to work at getting them to respond to the survey.

Next week, I’ll share ideas on the data analysis questions you should be asking before you keep working on your survey.

If you have questions about survey design, please share them by leaving a comment!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.