How to humanize a survey

I recently wrote an article about humanizing surveys
which suggested that more casual language may create a better survey experience
for responders while not comprising data quality nor research results. Here are
a few tips on how to achieve those results for yourself.
  1. Don’t
    compromise on grammar
    . Even though we’re trying to loosen up and use a more
    casual writing style, we don’t need or want to compromise on grammar. This is
    not the place to forget how to use a comma, switch around your verb tenses, or
    generally be sloppy.
  2. Shorter is
    better
    . Charles Dickens is well known for his ability to write perfectly
    crafted sentences of 100 words or more. Surveys are not the place for that. Once
    sentences creep over the 15 word mark, figure out they can be broken down into
    more readable lengths. This long question can easily be shortened: ‘For each of the following descriptions of
    shopping behaviors, please indicate whether the description is highly
    characteristic, somewhat characteristic, slightly characteristic, or not characteristic
    at all of you when you visit a membership-only warehouse club store
    .’  Instead try, ‘How descriptive are these characteristics when you visit a membership-only
    warehouse club store
    .’
  3. Don’t
    over apply grammar
    . We’ve all heard the adage of not ending a sentence in a
    preposition. Well, as part of natural language, we do it all the time. Don’t be
    scared to do it in a survey if the language sounds natural. Instead of awkwardly
    yet correctly saying ‘Into which of the following groups do you fall’? why not
    simply say ‘Which group do you fall into’?

Avoiding ending a sentence in a preposition is not something you need to strive for.

  1. Keep grid
    headers short
    . Researchers like to be as descriptive as they possibly can
    when writing surveys, perhaps to the point of being over-descriptive. Do we
    really need to ask what someone ‘currently
    owns
    ‘ instead of just asking what they ‘own.’
    Do you we really need to ask what someone has ‘used in the past week‘ instead of just asking what they ‘use a lot.’
  2. Loosen up
    your wording
    . Try using some different scales. Instead of using a scale
    from ‘Strongly Agree‘ to ‘Strongly Disagree,’ what about a scale
    of ‘Love, Like, Neutral, Dislike, Hate
    or ‘Awesome‘ to ‘Terrible.’ Yes, the words are much more casual but they will create
    differentiation among your responders and that is your true goal, and could
    even generate more meaningful results.
  3. Add a
    little humor
    . There’s no denying that humor is tricky. Jokes about politics,
    religion, and the usual iffy suspects remain off the table but that’s no reason
    to avoid all humour. Mention a currently popular meme (‘This survey may not be as fun as your favorite cat playing the piano
    video but we hope you like it anyways!
    ‘), a generally popular movie (‘May the survey force be with you‘), or
    spice up your answer options with some fun descriptors (‘Zero, Zip, Zilch!‘).

This survey may not be as fun as your favorite cat playing the piano video but we hope you like it anyways!

  1. Say
    please and thank you
    . Whether it’s minding your manners or treating others
    as you’d like to be treated, don’t forget to be polite throughout the survey
    experience. There’s no need to plaster it onto every question, but a little
    reminder now and then is much appreciated. Research participants like to know that
    there’s a human being on the other side of the research. And of course, use
    your Ps and Qs in a more casual way. Instead of ‘Thank you for your participation,’ why not try ‘Thanks a bunch for all your help‘ or ‘You’ve been a great help. Thanks so much!

If you apply these techniques carefully and don’t overdue
it, you too could benefit from happier responders. May the survey force be with
you!