Newsletter: Do you have a model for writing up survey results?

Posted on October 1, 2013 by  in Newsletter - ()

There is not a one-size-fits-all template for writing up survey results—it depends in the survey’s scale, the reason it was conducted, and who needs to use the results. But here are some guidelines: First, determine if you really need a full, narrative report. If the survey was relatively short and the results are mainly for internal project use, you may not need a detailed report. For example, at EvaluATE, we conduct a brief survey at the end of each of our webinars. The report is simply a summary of the results. The only additional analysis beyond what is automatically generated by our Webbased survey system (hostedsurvey.com) is our categorization of the open-ended responses by topic, so we can gain a better sense of the overall perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of the webinar. We do not write any narrative for this basic survey results summary (see an example 2013 Webinar Evaluation.)

If the survey results need to go to an external audience and/or it was a larger scale survey whose results warrant an indepth look, then you should probably develop a formal report. This survey report should include details about the survey’s purpose, administration mode (e.g., online v. paper-and-pencil), sample (who was asked to complete the survey), and response rate (what percentage of survey recipients completed the survey). If analytic techniques beyond basic descriptive statistics were used to describe the results, then there should also be a section to explain what analyses were performed and why. An important decision to make is how much of the quantitative and qualitative results to present in the body of the report. If there were numerous items on the survey, it may not be practical to report all the results for every item—and it makes for tedious reading. In this case, you can combine results to highlight trends and anomalies in the data. The detailed results can go in an appendix. Don’t be tempted to simply quantify qualitative results—it is better to describe the overall themes from the qualitative data and include a few representative examples in the body of the report. The responses to open-ended questions may be included in an appendix for readers who want to dig into the details.

A survey may be one of multiple data sources for a larger evaluation. In this case, the survey results should be included in the mixed-methods report. This type of evaluation report is best organized by evaluation question (that is, the overarching questions about a project’s progress, quality, and impact) rather than by data source or collection method. Ideally, determining which survey data points relate to which of the larger evaluation questions was part of the survey development process. If not, then that needs to happen as part of the report writing process. The details about the survey methodology and analysis should be included in the report, either in the Methods section or in a technical appendix.

For yet another example of how to present survey results, see the data snapshots based on the annual ATE survey. These onepage documents are visual depictions of results from a limited number of closely related survey items. See p. 3 to learn more.