Writing and Distributing Surveys

As some of my regular readers might know, I tried to distribute a survey as part of my “Arts and Recreation on Mars” paper for Kepler Space Institute. The goal was to assess how people consumed/engaged with art or recreation while confined to their homes. In addition to numerous technical issues, I had a devil of a time getting people to respond to the thing. Today I’ll recount my struggles and ask a few questions of my readers.

What Happened?

In my mind, I foolishly believed that a simple Microsoft Word form–with some drop-down menus and radio buttons would meet the needs. However, I soon learned that many users reported challenges getting the form to work, possibly due to PC/Mac version incompatibilities. This resulted in me offering a simple Word doc instead. This version, too, had compatibility issues, and I was forced to just copy and paste the text to my blog and ask people to copy and paste the text, highlight their answers, and email them that way. With all the technological issues sorted out, I had hopes that I could get a good set of responses.

I had reasons to be hopeful.

My Twitter audience comprises 1,768 followers from a variety of backgrounds and interests, including space, writing, and technology. This blog’s audience, captured by Google Analytics, is tracked in more detail. During the period of the survey (June 18 – July 31, 2021), my readership ranged from 18 to 400 on any given day, with 86.4% of those readers being new visitors to the site.

However, despite repeated efforts to get the survey out in front of my readers, I only received 13 responses. Thirteen! And I’ll be painfully honest here: they were all friends and family. So despite the relatively broad extent of my reading audience, I just didn’t get statistically useful information for my paper.

Why Did That Happen?

We take surveys all the time. Facebook alone is famous for putting out surveys asking “What sort of potato are you?” or “Which movie star are you?” It seemed to me that a survey with some actual usefulness or heft to it might be a welcome change. I was mistaken.

This reading audience wasn’t interested in responding–much. I had a couple of  Heroic Technical Writing readers respond, but again, they were friends or family. Strangers? Maybe one or two.

Maybe the technological issues were off-putting enough not to bother. Perhaps I would have been better off using SurveyMonkey or another dedicated survey application. I was obviously deluded in my belief that a simple Word document would be easier or more user friendly (aiming a dirty look in your direction, Microsoft!).

The other potential problem was the content of the survey. Maybe people were put off by the idea of answering questions about “the arts.” Maybe the questions were awkwardly phrased, though I’d hope not.

I deliberately did not mention movies or television–the most common forms of entertainment–because I was trying to focus on more of the traditional humanities (painting, sculpture, dance, music, theater), but I didn’t say outright that they weren’t arts, either. Were they offended that I didn’t mention them?

  • Were people embarrassed to admit that they hadn’t attended anything related to the arts?
  • Were they embarrassed to admit that they didn’t engage in vigorous exercise?
  • Were people really too busy to answer an eight-question survey with two demographic questions?
  • Was my framing/marketing of the survey inappropriate, unappealing, or off-topic?

I’m left to wonder. And mind you, I’m hit with a customer experience survey after practically every interaction with a large American corporation and I routinely ignore them. I get it: we’re probably surveyed to death. So maybe I was delusional about the appeal of a survey about arts and recreational behavior during the pandemic. Mea culpa.

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About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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2 Responses to Writing and Distributing Surveys

  1. chris92071 says:

    Lessons learned are as valuable as the survey!

    • Bart Leahy says:

      Perhaps, but I was really hoping to get some decent results! I’m not a scientist: I had one paper to write. : /

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