How to write a compelling survey introduction—get your response rates to soar

You only get one chance to engage your potential respondents with an online survey—and it all hinges on the introduction. Read on to find out how to persuade people to click through to your first question.

What to include in your survey introduction

There are some important details you really have to include in an introduction.

Before you set your mind to details of your writing, make sure you have the basics set in stone. There are five points you need to include in your survey introduction:

  1. Your organization

  2. The goal of the survey

  3. How much time this will take

  4. Anonymity/privacy of personal information (link to your privacy statement)

  5. Relevant instructions

 Now let’s take a look at each of them in more detail.

  1. 1
    Your organization

    You wouldn’t grab someone in the street and ask them to fill out a survey with no introduction—so don’t do it online with your survey software.

    It’s important for the people answering your survey to know who you are before they start, or you’ll be left with a bunch of nonresponses.

    Improving your brand recognition is always a good idea. Especially if you want people to do more surveys for you in the future.

    But don’t go on and on about yourselves. The more you talk about your own company and how great it is, the more biased the survey will feel.

    Simply let people know who the survey is coming from—with a quick explanation of who you are. If they want to know more, you can leave a link to your site—or add it on your Thank You Screen at the end.

  2. 2
    The goal of the survey

    Be honest about why you are sending this survey research.

    If you’re being vague about your objectives or failing to mention them altogether—your readers will find it hard to trust you.

    Try to be as transparent as possible. Not only will this improve your responses, but people deserve to know what they’re taking part of.

  3. 3
    How long this will take

    People are busy—and time is money. Give an estimated time for completion upfront e.g. “This will only take a few minutes of your time.”

    Don’t leave your readers in the dark. If they don’t know if there are five or five hundred questions left, they’ll get bored and impatient halfway through and hit the dreaded X button—or write half-hashed, inaccurate responses. And nonresponses are good for no one.

    Let the people taking your survey know how far they are from the finishing line before they even start giving answers.

  4. 4
    Anonymity and privacy of responses

    This is a big deal. You have to be clear and honest about what privacy rights people have.

    If the responses you get from a survey are going to be anonymous, then let people know. Emphasize it—’cause you’ll get more honest answers if people understand that their answers remain confidential once they finish.

    If you can’t offer anonymity to respondents—then they have the right to know that too.

    Be fair with the people taking your survey. No one wants to give personal answers to something—only to have their answers used against them in the future.

    Want to keep it short and sweet? You can always include a link to the privacy statement of your company. Give a very quick outline of the policy in the introduction, and give people the chance to learn more if they want.

  5. 5
    Give relevant instructions

    Be clear about what your readers actually have to do in the survey or questionnaire.

    Let’s say that you ask:

    On a scale of 1-10, was this the tastiest type of cake?

    Is “1” the tastiest score, because it’s number one? Does “10” represent the best cake, because it has a 10/10 flavor?

    Who knows? Well, you will—but your readers won’t.

    Asking questions like this means you’ll get answers from people in both camps. This means the answers you get will be worthless and your data can’t be used by your research team.

    Keep the instructions as clear as possible. Ask someone to take the survey first. If they are confused by the questions, then the people taking your survey definitely will be too

Survey introduction writing tips

So now the necessary parts are taken care of, you need to focus on standing out from the crowd.

A perfect survey introduction is more than just a jumble of details and instructions. It’s the first contact you have with the people you will be relying on—so it’s important to start things off on the right foot. Make sure you:

  1. 1
    Remember you’re talking to real people

    The robots haven’t taken over yet—you’re not interviewing androids. You’re asking real people questions, so speak to them like, well, a human.

    Keep the jargon for the boardroom. Speaking in formal, academic or technical language will just confuse most people.

    If you open up with “Our company is looking for 100 respondents to answer a market research study on…”, then the survey will seem like some long, dry, serious read.

    Try to humanize your speech in your survey intro.

    Turn that cold, corporate speech into “We have a few questions to ask about…”.

    Simple. Friendly. Human.

  2. 2
    Stay gracious

    Always say thank you—you’re getting something from your readers with this survey.

    Besides, if the people taking your survey feel their answers are valued, they’re much more likely to give genuine and thought-out answers

    Your readers will appreciate it. Plus you’d make your grandmother proud.

  3. 3
    Write it last

    A good introduction is a quick summary of the content that’s about to come up.

    It’s the same in any medium, really.

    So the best time to write your introduction is at the end of the writing process.

    Why? Well, if you’ve gone through the entire process of planning and creating a survey, you’ll have a deep understanding of the content, hopefully.

    Writing an introduction early on means you’ll be constantly editing if you make changes to the rest of the study.

    If you do it at the end, you’ll have all the other parts ready to go—so this is the simplest time to put everything in a nutshell.

  4. 4
    Remind readers why this is important

    What’s the point of this study? Why should the people answering your questions care about them at all? Why should they spend five minutes on this survey instead of on Buzzfeed?

    The best way to do this is to explain how these surveys had made a difference in the past.

    Whether you’ve carried out research that led to policy change or simply asked employees about how they felt at work—then adapted the environment to suit them better, it’s certainly worth adding that info.

    If you can show your survey isn’t meaningless research for some faceless organization, but rather information that can lead to positive change—then your readers have much more incentive to give thoughtful answers.

    Encourage people to be happy to be part of the process.

Let’s take a look at a couple of good survey introduction examples from our fictional companies that follow this advice.

Customer surveys: feedback form introduction

Imagine that a customer has made a purchase from your shop, Absolutely Amazing Shoes, and you’d really like some customer feedback. Let’s look at how to introduce a survey you’d send to customers. First off, this person just bought something. So be gracious right off the bat. You’re happy they are a customer, right? Well, let them know.

The shop’s name is included, and stylised as their brand name. But the reader knows exactly who you are–so we can keep this to an absolute minimum here and still boost your brand recognition.

Readers know how quick this is going to be, and why they should give an answer.

Market research survey introduction

Undertaking market research is certainly different to customer feedback. But the same rules apply. Take a look at our example from Enough Plastic, a global anti-plastic NGO.

Let’s check this against our list from before.

Since this is possibly the first time the reader has heard of Enough Plastic, it’s important to add a short explanation. Readers get another way to learn more if they want, but you get the idea of this organization in a single sentence.

Letting your readers know this is a longer survey is important. For people who don’t want to take ten minutes on a survey, they see this right away and inaccurate answers don’t get included.

Readers are told about this study and are encouraged to give honest replies. Littering and wasteful behavior can be embarrassing to admit, so anonymity will be very important to anyone taking this survey.

The introduction ends with a sincere thank you and represents the global nature of not just the organization, but the planet as a whole.

How you ask is everything.