Survey Best Practices for Gathering Demographics

Demographic questions are a standard part of many surveys. They can spotlight the opinions of particular groups of people or show gaps in your communication efforts. Survey responses that are linked to demographic data can also identify important trends among a certain group or the need to provide additional information to a particular segment of the population. AE2S Communications often uses surveys to gather data for our clients’ branding, marketing, and communications projects. Below are some best practices for gathering demographics information.

Examples of demographics:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Nationality
  • Education
  • Employment Status
  • Household Income
  • Marital Status
  • Number of Children
  • Religious or Political Affiliations

Unfortunately, demographic questions can feel very personal to respondents — especially when the questions focus on income, race, and age. So how do you get the information you need without scaring your survey respondents away?

You wouldn’t walk up to a stranger and start a conversation by asking their annual household income or age, so why would a survey start with those questions? That’s why we recommend placing demographics questions at the end of the survey.

In addition, we recommend limiting demographics questions to focus only on the data you truly need. Different types of projects will benefit from different demographics data. For instance, an economic development entity may want to know about a business’s annual revenue and years in existence, but the age of the business owner is likely unnecessary. A tourism board may want to know about survey respondents’ income and gender, but religious affiliation is probably not crucial data. A park district may find residents’ ages and number of children useful, but education level might not be relevant.

There are two things to ask yourself before you include a question related to demographics:

  1. Which demographic information will provide important insights to the survey data? Include questions that will provide the data that will make survey responses more useful for decision-making or future campaigns.
  2. Does knowing the respondents’ ethnicity, race, age, income, gender, or religion have any relevance to questions you’re trying to answer by deploying a survey? If not, leave it out.

Prior to asking demographics questions, it’s helpful to provide a statement indicating to respondents that they will be asked some questions about themselves. An explanation of how the demographics information will be used can also be provided, such as “The information provided will help us to identify gaps in service to our residents/customers/visitors and improve our offerings.”

Selecting the right demographics questions for your survey will enrich your data and ensure it can be considered from several angles. Likewise, omitting unnecessary questions makes for a more comfortable and efficient experience for your respondents. That’s a win-win situation for you and the people who take your survey.

If you’re looking for more information on developing surveys, feel free to contact me at Heather.Syverson@ae2s.com.

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