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Before writing survey questions ask the target audience what they want to talk about

A few months ago, I came across an inquiry in the “members only” section of an association’s web site that made me think about how most organizations develop surveys. Another member wanted to conduct a staff survey and asked others for copies of similar surveys that they had conducted.

Like most people who want to develop attitude surveys, she intended to build her survey using questions that others had already asked. She may also have planned to ask a few of her co-workers – likely members of the management team – for their question suggestions.

This is a typical approach to developing surveys, but it ignores a rich source of input for preparing survey questions – those who will be responding to the survey. While it is usually impossible to gather input from the entire target group – that would be conducting a survey to conduct a survey – it is possible to collect valuable input from groups that are representative of the population to be surveyed.

By listening to staff or customer groups, one can identify themes or issues that are important to them. Questions can then be written to explore these themes further through the survey. Approaching surveys in this fashion makes them more relevant to the respondents. Improved relevancy may increase the quality and number of responses.

Over the past ten years, Nelson Scott has worked with public and private sector organizations to develop and implement staff and customer surveys that ask relevant questions.


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A professional trainer, speaker, and consultant since 1995, Nelson Scott works with organizations that are committed to making the right hiring decisions, developing and retaining productive staff, and strengthening relationships with customers.  Learn more by visiting or e-mailing


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