So you've decided on a survey as the best way to tackle your white paper problem. Congratulations! Surveys can be fickle beasts, but when done properly, they can set you (and your business) up as the go-to people for answers to questions.
But if you decided on how to write your masterpiece before figuring out what to write, then there's something you should know before you go any further.
The topic makes the survey
There are topics that all of us ponder that we think might make a good survey.
- How many books do Americans read every year and which are their favorite topics?
- On average, how many possessions do people shed when they move into a tiny home?
- On average, how many possessions do people shed when they move into a van?
- Is there a serious psychological difference between me and the tiny home/van people? Should I be worried about it?
These wouldn't make a very good survey topic, though (probably).
You want something that people outside your small bubble are excited to discuss and share — both so that you get plenty of responses to your survey and so that plenty of people read it once you've finished with it.
What should you research, then?
Tons of people probably have questions about money in your profession — including people in your profession.
- How much money does the average _______ make?
- How much money does the average _______ cost?
- How much money does the average business spend on ________?
You can also look at money through a time lens:
- How have prices changed over time in your industry?
- How have rates changed over time in your industry?
- How have wages changed over time in your industry?
Or through a "what's new" lens:
- What was the biggest unexpected business expense in your industry last year?
- How much was spent on Facebook advertising last month?
Another rich area for survey topics are challenges/threats and strengths/opportunities that are prevalent in your industry.
- Can you quantify that challenge/threat?
- How much business has it stolen from traditional models?
- What's keeping bottom lines strong in your industry?
- How can you target best practices or areas of growth?
Sometimes it's worth your time to dig into an argument or debate that's unfolding in your industry.
Here are a few I might postulate for journalism, for example:
- Is journalism a trade or a profession?
- Is journalism school necessary, or would an internship work just as well — or better?
- Should publishers be required to release diversity numbers on their newsrooms?
- Should reporters be allowed to attend political rallies as participants?
If you're going this route, a word of advice: If you have personal opinions, then make sure you have someone who generally takes a contrary point of view looking over your survey questions. It won't be a quality survey or analysis if it's biased.
Time keeps on slipping ...
How do people in your industry typically spend most of their time? Again, this is something that people within your industry will also be intensely curious about; they'll want to see how they measure up.
- What's the average breakdown of activities and time spent on those activities in your industry?
- Which activities take the most time and why?
- How are people saving time on tasks that are usually time-consuming?
... Into the future
With as much jumping-around as most of us do career-wise before retirement, it makes sense to ask some questions surrounding future plans.
- What are the future plans of most people in your industry? Are they planning to retire at some point, and how are they saving for that eventuality?
- Do associates want to move into management, or is this scenario a jumping-off point for bigger plans?
Things to remember
Under these categories, there are dozens of threads you can tease out into a survey. Pick an idea that seems to have potential to you and start thinking about where you can go with it — which is probably (hopefully!) somewhere totally new.
You'll want to consider whether you want to put together a qualitative survey — in-depth interviews with just a few (very select) sources — or a quantitative survey — multiple-choice or short-answer questions with many different sources.
And you'll want to come up with a set of questions (not too many; just enough) that capture what you need to know and are easy for your subjects to understand and answer. (Nobody wants a confusing survey question, least of all the researcher.)
I help businesses with this kind of thing! Email me if you'd like to learn more.