- Plan - set your objectives and design the survey
- Issue - communicate and motivate father responses
- Analyse - analyse the responses and publicise the results
- Improve - implement your priority actions, review and repeat the survey
Step 1: Plan
Decide what you want to achieve
Tip: Try to identify the types of graph/chart you’ll want to present in your final report, so that it’s clear in your mind what questions you need to ask.
You may want to analyse the results for different categories of response e.g. dog/bitch, entire/neutered, bred from/not bred from, Standard/Miniature, or age.
To achieve this you will need to include an “identifier” page of questions, usually at the beginning of the survey.
Tip: Create these identifier categories as lists of options rather than allowing free-form answers, to ensure consistency.
This also raises the question of whether or not the survey should allow anonymous responses. If you can guarantee anonymity, then it may be appropriate to ask for each respondent's name or e-mail address, particularly if you need to target people for any follow-up investigations. You may decide that you need to be able to identify the registered names of the dogs whose data are being collected. This will enable you to carry out any subsequent analysis of pedigrees, but it may put some people off responding to your survey.
Survey design principles
- Keep the survey focused on your objectives and be concise (avoid asking too many questions about too many topics)
- Make it easy for people to answer the questions (they need to be clear and unambiguous)
- Ask the right type of question (avoid leading and multiple questions – more on this later)
Every question should add value and move you closer to meeting your objective. For each question, ask yourself “what would I do if I knew the answer to this question?”
Tip: Try to avoid mixing too many different types of question. Respondents will find the survey hard to follow and may get confused by the different types of response expected of them. Think about the logical flow of questions; don’t jump around from topic to topic.
Types of questions
- Multiple choice
e.g. Which of the following eye conditions has your dog been diagnosed with?
- Progressive retinal atrophy
- Other; please specify
|To what extent do you agree with the following statements?||Strongly agree||Agree||Neither agree, nor disagree||Disagree||Stongly disagree||Don't know|
|My dog has an outgoing temperament.|
|The breed club is doing a good job at communicating health issues in the breed.|
There is endless debate about whether rating scales should have even or odd numbers of choices and there’s probably no right answer!
The middle option of a rating scale often attracts a substantial number of respondents who are unsure of their opinion, or who want to “sit on the fence”.
A variation on this type of rating scale is to use a question that has two opposite statements at the ends of a rating scale, and the respondent is asked to choose from a numerical scale between the two ends.
Top: Make sure that you create statements that are truly “opposites”, e.g.
|This dog's temperament is nervous||1||2||3||4||5||This dog's temperament is outgoing|
e.g. Please put the following methods of communication used by the breed club to disseminate health information in order of its effectiveness (1 = most effective; 5 = least effective):
- Email newsletters
- Club Facebook page
- Breed seminars
- Club website
- Club newsletter (paper)
Bear in mind that ranking questions can be quite difficult to analyse and present results. You’ll probably end up with something along the lines of: “80% of respondents rated email newsletters as the least effective method”.
“Please tell us what you think is the most significant health issue we need to address in the breed at the moment.”
Tip: Leave plenty of space for responses to open questions.
Remember, these types of answers are difficult to analyse, but they can give some useful insights into reasons behind responses to the other types of question. Don’t have too many of them otherwise you’ll spend a considerable amount of time trying to get any meaningful data. It’s usually a good idea to have a single, final open question to allow respondents to provide you with any other information that they feel would be helpful.
Tip: If these closed questions are clearly defined, you may not need to give people a “don’t know” option.
- Has this dog been bred from? Yes/No
- Has this dog been spayed/neutered? Yes/No
- Has this dog had a Cough in the past 12 months? Yes/No
Wording of questions
Make sure that your instructions are absolutely clear. Keep sentences short, use lots of white space on the page and avoid jargon or words that may not be understood by everyone. You may also need to provide a separate glossary of health conditions, where you explain briefly what each condition is and its symptoms.
Tip: Ask somebody with a fresh pair of eyes to read your draft survey to check for errors and make sure it’s all clear and easy to understand.
Tip: If you want to pilot your survey, take it to a club/council committee meeting and get people to try it out. If you’re holding a health testing day, or a seminar, these can also be good places to get initial reactions.
Other things to be aware of
Multiple questions should be avoided
- How often does your dog get exercised and groomed?
- Does your dog have an outgoing temperament and is it good with children?
Leading questions should be avoided
- Do you prefer to give your dog food X or food Y?
One small word can alter the meaning of a question radically
- “My dogs are vaccinated” may get a very different response to “My dogs are vaccinated annually”.
Tip: Check spelling, punctuation and grammar. If you’re not confident in your spelling, punctuation or grammar, ask someone who is for help. Always proof read your survey before it is issued.
- The purpose of the survey – what incentive is there for people to respond?
- Specific instructions for completing the survey – how to fill it in and how long it is likely to take
- What you plan to do with the results – including whether they will get to see them
- How you will deal with confidentiality?
- Where, when and who to return paper-based surveys to – you may want provide a reply-paid envelope for paper-based surveys
- How to access and complete the survey, if it’s being done online
- Who to contact for help, or to answer queries?
Finally, don’t forget to include a “thank you” at the end of the survey to let people know that their time and effort is appreciated.
Tip: Include a cover letter or statement from your breed’s health sub-committee chairman explaining why the survey is important, how it will be used and how it is endorsed by all your breed’s clubs.
Step 2: Issue
Communicate and motivate
Produce a user-friendly questionnaire
Perform a pilot test
Personalise any communications
Distribute your questionnaire to a number of different people
First of all, think about all the types of owners you need to make aware of the survey, e.g.:
- Club and council committee officers/members
- Breed club members
- Pet owners
- Owners who work their dog(s), or who take part in non-show activities
Distribute your questionnaire in a number of different ways
Paper basedPaper-based questionnaires can be posted out to potential participants, or you could hand them out at shows, trials, matches, seminars or club/council meetings. If you are distributing them by hand, make sure to include a return postal address.
ElectronicRegardless of whether your questionnaire is an electronic document (e.g. Word or PDF) or uses an online survey tool (e.g. Survey Monkey or Kwik Surveys), it can be made available to participants on your breed website(s) as a link or a download. Once you have an electronic link to the questionnaire, this can be distributed through many channels, e.g.:
- on forums/discussion groups (e.g. Yahoo Groups, Champdogs, Our Dogs Forum)
- on social networking sites (e.g. Facebook and Twitter)
- in the canine press (e.g. Our Dogs, Dogs Today, Dogs Monthly, and K9 Magazine)
- in electronic newsletters or via emails
Tip: If you can brief people face to face, e.g. at a breed seminar or show, you will be able to explain the survey’s purpose and answer any questions.
Keep your initial email or letter short and to the point
- who you are
- why you are carrying out the survey
- what you will do with the data
- how long the questionnaire is likely to take to complete
- what the deadline for completion is
- your contact details (for returning completed surveys or for any feedback or questions)
Consider offering incentives
Tip: The best incentive may be as simple as letting people know how the survey’s results will contribute to improving the breed’s health.
Send reminder emails or letters
Some people may be very good at responding to you straight away, but many people will quickly forget about the questionnaire, or may put it on their ever-expanding to-do list. A few gentle reminders will be useful in jogging their memory. However, try not to send too many reminders and, if possible, try to send reminders only to those who have not yet replied. If you have used any forums, social media etc. to publicise your questionnaire, then don’t forget to issue reminders via these tools as well.
Monitor your response rates
If you are using an online survey tool, you will usually be able to see reports of how many surveys have been completed and take account of this information to trigger further publicity. These reports will sometimes show you if people are fully completing the survey, or if they are giving up part way through, or missing particular questions. Again, this information can help you identify further communications to improve response rates.
Tip: If, for example, you allow people a three-week period to complete the survey, it can be helpful to send weekly reminders by email and through social networking sites (e.g. “two weeks to go”, "only one day left to complete your survey”, etc.).
After the closing date
Some final thoughts on how to increase your survey's response rate
Tip: Showing people how they helped will encourage them to complete any surveys that you carry out in the future.
Online software to create your survey
Options available to you
Tip: If you want to run a continuous health survey, rather than a one-off, you really need to use one of the online survey options.
If you do a google search for “online survey software” you will find many examples, but the most popular ones are Survey Monkey and Survey Console.
These are dedicated survey tools that allow you to create your survey online and produce a variety of simple, standard reports quite easily. You do need to check out the limitations of any “free” options; e.g. some tools only allow you to collect up to 100 responses.
Most online services will enable you to design surveys with a variety of question types, such as:
- multiple choice with a single answer allowed
- multiple choice with multiple answers allowed
- star rating
- text boxes
One alternative to the dedicated online survey software is Google Forms, which enables you to design a survey and store the results in a Google spreadsheet.
Whichever online survey software you choose, you will have the option to send a link for the survey in an email or embed your survey in a website for people to submit their responses.
Most of the online survey tools have fairly limited reporting capabilities which means that you will have to download the survey responses as a spreadsheet and then do your detailed analysis offline.
Main authorIan Seath
The project teamJudith Ashworth, Sheila Atter, Archie Bryden, Brian Hill, Dorothy McIntyre,
Shula Shipton and Marion Wilks