How to Fix a Boring Survey: 4 Types of Questions to Ask

“We ran this survey but have nothing interesting to report.”

My heart drops when marketers tell me this. And, unfortunately, I’m hearing this more often.

A possible issue? The survey is focused on inventory stats.

Inventory stats essentially report on the “state of the state.” They seek to learn as much about the industry as possible.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with these types of stats — and they can be very useful if you want someone to link to your website as the “source of truth” — the downside is that there may be little to say about them.

If you want your next survey to be more interesting, ask questions that will tell stories. I call these story stats.

Story stats effectively answer, “so what?” or “who cares?”

There are a lot of different ways to use survey questions to create story stats, but here are a few examples to get your gears turning.

Reveal a missed opportunity

What should your audience be doing that they aren’t? Ask questions to reveal these gaps so you can shed light on where your audience should be spending its time.

For instance, a couple of years ago we ran a survey with Buzzsumo that studied if and how marketers are using original research. One finding: only 66% of those who publish survey-based research publish their methodology.

Reveal a missed opportunity

This one stat is not only telling, but it also reveals a place where marketers can improve. It’s very easy to use this as a jumping-off place to create content that shares why a methodology is important and how to create one.

Highlight a gap

Oftentimes, you need to ask more than one question to reveal a story.

For instance, instead of only asking which goals someone wants to achieve, follow up with a question that asks, “Of those goals, which have you achieved in the past 12 months?”

This is much more story-worthy because you learn where people want to be and where they actually are. And you may have a great opportunity to use your editorial to help someone navigate to the place they want to be.

For another example of this type of stat, check out this example from UiPath’s State of the RPA Developer survey.

One of the goals of the survey is to understand how companies can better value RPA developers. To get this data, we offered survey participants a list of 7 benefits and asked how important each one is to them. Then, we asked how satisfied they are. We reported the gap in the chart below. This is a great way to highlight a gap.

Uncover a disconnect

Another option: ask multiple questions about a related topic to identify where there may be conflict.

Case in point: The recent State of Writing from Typeset reveals 61% of business communicators plan to increase the amount of writing they do in the next 12 months.

By itself, this stat doesn’t feel all that exciting, but it comes to life when you realize that only 39% plan to increase their budget.

Compare a segment

One final idea is comparing segments to understand the differences between cohorts. A common example of this is looking at how those who are successful are doing things differently than their peers

CMI and MarketingProfs annual Content Marketing Budgets, Benchmarks and Trends report does a great job with this each year. They share the key things that successful content marketers are doing differently.

A version of this story appeared in Data Chronicles, my monthly newsletter that helps you conduct and publish better survey-based research. Sign up to get the newest tips, examples and updates.