How to Do a Survey

This brief tutorial outlines the key steps involved in conducting a survey.

So, you want to do a survey.

Maybe you haven’t conducted a survey before. Maybe you have. Either way, that’s OK.

Here are the essential steps to success.

1. Decide who will take your survey

The most likely scenario for a business or non-profit organization is that you have a list of email addresses of people whom you have permission to email.

If you want to survey people in-person or by telephone, or if it’s really a focus group and not a survey you want, you should contact a market research consultant.

However, if you have a list of emails of people who have given permission for you to contact them, in many cases you can write and launch a survey yourself.  Typical opt-in email lists inlclude:

  • existing customers
  • prospective customers who have signed up to receive emails through your website
  • employees
  • donors (for non-profit groups)

2. Pick a survey tool

There are many services for creating an online survey, and they range from simple to advanced.  One method of course is to Google the term “survey software,” and you will find many listings of companies who provide this service.

One company you may want to check out is Survey Analytics (which I work for as Vice President of Marketing).

Regardless of which service you use, you are going to want to go with a company that has a good reputation, good customer support, and a library of typical questions to get you started.

3) Upload your email list

Once you choose which online survey service to use, create your account and then upload your opt-in email list. You will typically be asked whether you have permission to email this list.

4) Write your questionnaire

Most people have the ability to write a decent questionnaire on their own. The main goal is to avoid a biased result. In order to get an unbiased result, you need to write your questions in a neutral fashion. A neutral question yields a fair result, whereas a biased question yields a biased result.

Your online survey software will probably have suggestions for question wording. If you are in doubt, consult a market research expert.

5) Launch your survey

Launching a questionnaire is easy. You just indicate which portion of your email list should be sent the survey, you compose an introductory email, and send. Your introductory email should make it clear who is sending the survey and what the purpose of the survey is. It is also advisable to remind respondents that you will keep their answers private.

Depending on the nature of your survey and who you are sending it to, you may want to include an incentive for completing the survey, such as an gift card. Most online survey software companies will include incentive fulfillment in their services.

6) View the results

A good online survey system will make it easy for you to view the results in real-time and even drill down to sub-groups; for example, with a few clicks you can look at the results of your survey among men and among women to see if there are differences. You can also download your results to Excel or other formats.

It’s a good idea to follow up with some of the people who took your survey to ask them about the experience.

This tutorial covers the steps needed for most basic surveys. There is a lot more that can be done – including surveys designed for smartphones or tablet computers.

Enjoy conducting your survey, and feel free to share your experiences in the comments section below.


About Dana Stanley

Dana is the Editor-in-Chief of Research Access.


  1. Dana…..I’m looking for a survey tool where I can connect the responses with the respondent……I want to ask specific questions to our members about how they want to participate in our organization, and I also want to award them an incentive (one Time Bank hour from our Time Bank) for filling out the survey, and I’ll need to know the respondent in order to do that. Are there any survey tools that you know about that allow this kind of response?

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