What good is an online survey if no one takes it? Or similarly, how useful are survey results if questions go unanswered? As you might expect, it can be an almost completely wasted effort. Some researchers are willing to accept a large percentage of non-responses. This is usually the case with surveys being distributed to large populations. However, regardless of any survey size, there’s no need to settle for less-than-optimum response. By following just five simple guidelines when creating online surveys, response rates can be maximized to their fullest potential. Step 1:  State Your Purpose In today’s world of spam-sensitive email users, it is important to let recipients know why they’ve made it to your list of survey participants. If it is to evaluate a recent purchase, give as many details about the purchase as you can. Things like purchase date and items purchased can help jog participants’ memory as to the nature of their relationship with your organization. Like any other email, surveys from a trusted source have more chances of getting opened. Step 2: Give Clear, Concise Directions It was Mark Twain who said, “If you make something idiot-proof, the world will build a better idiot.” While his words are a bit harsh, there is a bit of truth in them. What seems obvious to some is completely confusing to others. If it is important that respondents complete the survey within a certain period of time; say so. If questions have multiple choice answers and participants can select more than one answer; be sure to let them know. There’s nothing to be lost from survey recipients that already understand the intended directions, and everything to be gained from those that needed a little extra help. Step 3: Watch Your Language Even if you want your organization to be viewed as an incredibly intelligent or experienced authority, try to avoid industry terms or difficult vocabulary words. All they serve to do is confuse your audience – and confused audiences don’t take or finish surveys. If you keep in mind that most of America reads at about an 8th grade reading level, a fairly easy self-test to run on any survey is to see if the words in your survey are typically used by the average junior high or middle school student. Of course, if you’re speaking to an educated or highly professional audience like physicians, lawyers, scientists, architects and the like, feel free to use any industry-specific terms that will encourage greater understanding among your participants. Step 4: Go With a Flow There’s a logical order to the way the human mind thinks. Surveys that follow this order help respondents spend more time focusing on answering questions and less time trying to understand them. Begin with simple answers, those that require the least amount of consideration from the audience. Personal data such as age, education level, profession, and household income are easy warm-ups for virtually any online survey recipient. Once participants are comfortable, the more complex questions become easier to answer. Step 5: Size Matters Be respectful of your online survey participants and their time. No one wants to invest the time to complete an 80-question survey. Even if they’re your most loyal customers, it is unreasonable to expect that any respondent is as interested in your survey as your organization is. Be as brief as possible while still collecting all the information that you need. Remember also that this is not your only chance to gather survey information, so stick to a single topic for each survey and save other topics for future surveys. It’s surprising how large of an impact these small changes can have on the success of your online survey efforts. As your organization gets more experienced and skilled at applying these five strategies, they’ll become like second nature for your organization and you can concentrate on other survey strategies.