Originally published in the January 2006 edition of Forward, the Newsletter of the STC UK Chapter
It is often said that the best exmples of user documentation are those where the users have been involved from an early stage. For example, if you know what your users don't understand about your product or service you can tailor the next edition of your documntatio to addrss those concerns.
One way of actually discoveringwhat your users think is to run a survey, and this article introduces the idea of running an online survey using a commercial web-based product called SurveyMonkey (http://www.surveymonkey.com). There are a number of web-based tools available, and you may well find that an alternative service is more suitable for your needs than SurveyMonkey.
SurveyMonkey offers two levels of service subscription, basic and professional. A basic subscription is free and is a useful option for individuals, students, and other people who simply don't have a budget. Basic subscribers are limited to a total of 10 questions and 100 responses for each survey. A professional subscription costs US $19.95 per month and as well as allowing an unlimited number of questions in each survey allows upt to 1,000 responses per month at no extra charge.
In a basic subscription survey you can choose from a dozen or more question types, for example single answer, multiple answers, or a matrix of answers, and you can view your results on line or download them as a *.csv file for analysis in a spreadsheet or statistical program.
The professional subscription gives you a number of additional features such as making the answers to certain questions mandatory, introducing conditional logic to direct users away from questions that aren't relevant, a customised redirection page at the end of your survey, and making your results available online to other people.
Both the basic and professional subscriptions allow you to create test surveys so that you practice your skills and preview your questionnaire. Once your survey is ready to go live, SurveyMonkey generates a unique link to your survey which you can place on your own web site or email to your respondents.
When I needed to carry out a survey for my MA dissertation research I took out a professional subscription to SurveyMonkey for 4 months. The following illustrations are taken from my survey on Job Satisfaction, which some of you may even remember.
Figure 1 Question allowing one answer only
Figure 1 shows a question with "radio buttons" which allows only one answer per question. This is probably the most common question type.
Figure 2 Question allowing multiple answers
Figure 2 is a checkbox list which allows the respondent to select more than one answer. This question includes a write-in text box for answers that you have not anticpated.
Figure 3 Question with answers matrix
The next type of question is a matrix, shown in Figure 3. In my Job Satisfaction questions I used a matrix format to allow respondents to select a grade from completely satisfied to completely dissatisfied on a seven-point Likert scale. You can also create a matrix whih allows multiple response per line.
Figure 4 Logical path question
Figure 4 is an example of a logical condition, with a drop-down selection box, which in this case offered only Yes or No as the possible reponses. Respondents who answered Yes were presented with further questions, while those who answered No were taken straight to the end of the survey. This feature is only available in the professional subscription.
Figure 5 End of survey redirection question
At the end of the survey, all the participants saw the thank you message illustrated in Figure 5. When they clicked on the Done link they were redirected immediately to a page I had created on my own web site. This redirection feature is part of the professional subscription only.
After my survey was complete I was able to download my data in a spreadsheet file, which could be opened immediately in Microsoft Excel. I actually carried out the statistical tests required for my research with the statistical analysis software SPSS, which imports files from Excel.
I found creating the survey very straightforward, flexible, and relatively cheap. In particular, I always received a very quick and helpful response to any questions or problems I encountered.
SurveyMonkey is a quick and elegant way to run a survey, even if you have never done so before, and the site certainly has my recommendation.
Copyright © STC and David Farbey 2006. All rights reserved. Links to this article, and properly acknowledged quotations from this article which include a link, are welcomed.