Tips for Writing Polls and Surveys

If you need to know what your clients really want, sometimes you just have to ask. Online polls and surveys are quick ways to collect market research for your business. However, getting useful feedback requires asking the right questions and providing a quick, convenient method for survey participants to submit data.

The odds of your online poll being scientific are about zero. But that doesn’t mean the answers aren’t very useful. Polls and surveys can help with a range of small business problems and questions including:

  • Evaluating customer satisfaction
  • Determining the need for your products or services
  • Determining the need to expand to additional locations
  • Analyzing interest in an existing or new product

Online Survey and Poll Question Types

writing online surveysShort Answer: Using a blank text box, allow respondents to provide their own answers to your survey question. Coupled with a well-written question, this is a great method for getting feedback without guiding answers.

Multi-Point Rating: Responses for this question style typically run from “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree” with an additional opt-out response like, “N/A” or “Does Not Apply.”

Numeric Rating: Numeric ratings are most commonly set from 1-5 and are another way of determining how well your respondents like an aspect of your business. Note that using and odd-numbered scale allows respondents to take a neutral stance, while even numbered scales force clients to lean more to one side or another.

Multiple Choice: Let’s say you want to add a new type of muffin to your menu, but you only have the ability to make three different flavors. An open question survey wouldn’t help much. With multiple-choice questions, you can have respondents pick their favorite of the available choices.

Rank Choices:  Ranking available options gets survey takers to sort available options from good to bad or like to dislike. Looking to take a muffin away from the menu? Ranking surveys can help you find which flavor will be missed the least.

Survey and Poll Writing Tips

  1. Write simple questions. Muddled questions result in muddled feedback. So don’t ask a series of questions in a single poll prompt. Use everyday language and do your best to avoid ambiguous words and phrases.
  2. Don’t pigeonhole your respondents. When using written responses instead of a likability scale, provide several options that run the gamut and leave an “other” prompt for clients who wish to write their own response.
  3. Don’t force readers to answer every question. You should provide a way for respondents to opt out of a question—either by making all answers optional or by providing a “not applicable” selection on each question.  Forcing answers only leads to skewed results, and skewed results are a complete waste of time.

Free Survey Resources

In most cases free  surveys are limited in function. You might find that it’s necessary to purchase an upgrade for surveys that go beyond the basics. That said, here are some places to get started creating free online surveys.

<center [stextbox id=”info”]This post is part of the March Word Carnival — a monthly group blogging event specifically for small business owners. (It’s the most fun you’ll have all month!) Check out the rest of the fabulous carney work here.[/stextbox]

ABCs of Freelance Writing: V is for Volunteer

As a woman who pays her bills with actual money and not goodwill, I am hesitant to recommend volunteering as a way of breaking into the business as a freelance writer. But, as a woman who believes that good things happen when people stop being selfish, part of me also wants to urge you to volunteer your writing services because words have the power to make the world a better place.

I guess I’m a little conflicted.

I firmly believe that all work should be adequately compensated, and that you should never feel guilty about earning a fair wage for your labor. Yes, even if you enjoy writing.

volunteerNonetheless I understand that volunteering can help you gain the confidence of potential clients and make it possible for you to start or enhance your portfolio. I also understand that like the teenager lectured on the wonders of abstinence, many new writers will be so eager to pen anything at all they’ll volunteer anyway. So let me say this: if you’re going to be a volunteer, at the very least protect yourself.

I offer you two rules to live by.

Always Volunteer on Your Terms

Let me tell you a little story. Last September a local business owner found me on a search for Indianapolis freelance writers. He emailed me about his pet project, he left comments on my blog about it, and he left posts on my Facebook page begging me to write a story about his non-profit (which, by the way, seemed a whole lot like a for-profit to me to me). Anyway, his “non-profit” was so awesome and had such a fantastic mission that he was sure I’d want to write about it for free.

I assure you, I didn’t. So I emailed him back, saying:

Thanks for getting in touch. I’m sorry, but at this time I am unable to take on another project. As you may have seen on my website, I’m running Writers’ Week along with a writing contest and working diligently to maintain the Suess’s Pieces blog. I also work a full-time day job and freelance part-time for other clients. And at some point I just have to say no. Not because I don’t like helping out, but because there just isn’t enough time in the day.

See how I was trying to be diplomatic?

Honestly, if he’d taken two minutes to read a couple of my blog posts, he’d have probably realized that his mission and my personal convictions were a mismatch at best. But he didn’t. He just kept harassing me.

Truth be told, maybe I was overly diplomatic with my email response, because he didn’t let up. He left me another comment, and I reminded him about how I’d already said no. I ended up revoking his permissions to make posts on my Facebook page. It got that bad.

The point is, don’t ever let someone badger you into writing for free. And permanently blacklist anyone that doesn’t respect you the first time you say no. Writing on a volunteer basis requires mutual respect. That’s why I recommend you proactively volunteer for causes that interest you. If someone comes to you asking for free copy, odds are his expectations aren’t anywhere close to reasonable.

Make Sure the Project is a Good Match

You may love the organization you’ve volunteered to write for, but be wary of taking on work-for-free assignments if the assignment seems tedious to you or you’re unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the scope and responsibilities. Botch a project because you’re bored or incapable, and you might as well hand out a business card that says, “I produce mediocre work.”

When you express interest in writing for someone on a volunteer basis, use plenty of qualifiers. Be specific about how much time you can devote to the assignment and what jobs you are volunteering to help with.